Judge names special prosecutor to probe Penn State grand jury
HARRISBURG — A special prosecutor will have “full power, independence and authority” to investigate whether breaches of secrecy occurred in the statewide grand jury that investigated Jerry Sandusky and three ex-Penn State University administrators, a judge ruled.
Judge Barry Feudale, a senior judge directing the grand jury in Harrisburg, appointed James Reeder, a former deputy attorney general who helped prosecute former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, to investigate through Aug. 8.
Prosecutors, attorneys and court officials are not permitted to discuss grand jury matters and can receive sanctions for breaching secrecy. Witnesses can disclose their testimony.
Although statewide grand juries typically handle several investigations, Feudale's order did not specify a case and simply named the panel that handled the Sandusky case. He extended the special prosecutor's authority to investigate alleged grand jury leaks in Dauphin County during the investigation of a casino owner.
Feudale's order was issued as he weighs matters critical to former Penn State President Graham Spanier, retired Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley.
The grand jury that investigated Sandusky said the three men covered up allegations against Sandusky and lied to the grand jury. They face charges including perjury and obstruction of justice.
Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, is imprisoned in Greene County for molesting 10 boys in and around Penn State facilities.
Lawyers for the former administrators maintain their rights were violated when former Penn State general counsel Cynthia Baldwin, a onetime state Supreme Court justice, was permitted to be in the grand jury room with them even though she later said she was representing the university and not the men.
Grand jury rules permit only lawyers directly representing witnesses.
The administrators' lawyers asked Feudale to bar Baldwin from testifying against them and to throw out testimony she later gave the grand jury that appeared to be key to charges filed against them in 2012.
Baldwin's attorney, Charles DeMonaco, maintains that Baldwin, 68, of McKeesport acted properly.
Legal experts said such probes are unusual but not unprecedented.
James West, a former assistant U.S. attorney who helped set up the Pennsylvania grand jury system in 1979, was a special prosecutor in Lackawanna County two years ago during an investigation of possible security breaches from a county grand jury.
“It happens from time to time,” West said. “I am unaware of any case here where it has resulted in something being thrown out, but it has in other states.”
Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at St. Vincent College, said Feudale's appointment of a special prosecutor reflects the gravity that courts place on grand jury secrecy.
“This is considered sacrosanct,” Antkowiak said.
John Burkoff, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said Feudale's decision to allow a prosecutor to decide the issue makes sense.
“Judges don't bring criminal charges. Prosecutors bring criminal charges,” Burkoff said.