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Other motives to Corbett's NCAA lawsuit?

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Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013
 

STATE COLLEGE

There was a whiff of politics and public relations permeating the lawsuit that Gov. Tom Corbett filed against the NCAA almost six months after Penn State accepted sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Corbett, a member of the board of trustees and former attorney general, in July called the sanctions “part of the corrective process.” On Wednesday, he railed against the sanctions and said Penn State had no choice at the time but to accept them.

And when the Corbett administration chose a law firm to file suit, one would think it would want a firm beyond reproach. But the governor hired the Philadelphia firm of Cozen O'Connor, where his general counsel, James Schultz, worked at “of counsel” before joining the administration.

The giveaway here is the hurry-up feel to this lawsuit six months after the fact. Corbett was given the authority to file suit from Linda Kelly, his hand-picked replacement as attorney general, 13 days before Democrat Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane, a critic of Corbett's handling of the Sandusky case, takes office. Kane, of course, was not consulted about the lawsuit.

Corbett has been battered in the polls for the nearly three years it took to bring charges against Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for molesting 10 young boys over 15 years. Kane gained political headwind pledging to investigate the delay.

Cozen O'Connor is one of the top law firms in the state, no question. But there are a dozen other blue-chip firms in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh without a connection to Schultz. Regardless of the firm's expertise in antitrust matters, another firm without that tie would not raise a question.

The state's legal standing in this lawsuit appears to be thin — essentially economic damages to Penn State-area businesses. For instance, the loss of bowl games. Penn State was banned from post-season play for four years and fined $60 million under the sanctions levied in July in the aftermath of the Louis Freeh report, a university-commissioned investigation by the former FBI director, that found a culture of silence among key administrators unwilling to blow the whistle on suspicions of Sandusky's sexual abuse of young boys.

Sanctions also included fewer scholarships and a waiver permitting players to transfer.

A typical viewpoint at the Capitol was that of Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, Monroe/Carbon counties. “When the NCAA announced its sanctions against Penn State University, the governor said, ‘part of the corrective process is to accept the serious penalties imposed.' ” Last week, the “governor reversed his position on the sanctions calling the NCAA actions ‘unlawful' and announced his intent to file a lawsuit against the NCAA.”

While Yudichak welcomed Corbett's fight against the NCAA's “rush to judgment,” the context of the governor's announcement begged the question: “Does the lawsuit have merit or is this just politics?”

Some key Penn State boosters also would like the governor to succeed. But they, too, remain skeptical about Corbett's motives.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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