Former PSU lawyer's role during Sandusky scandal to be argued
A former Supreme Court justice's legal advice will take center stage this week at a pretrial hearing for three former Penn State administrators charged with covering up child sexual abuse complaints against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach.
Former President Graham Spanier, ex-Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley contend the unusual roles played by then-university counsel Cynthia A. Baldwin during the grand jury investigation violated their rights. They want Dauphin County Judge Todd A. Hoover to dismiss perjury and related charges.
The administrators claim Baldwin represented them before the grand jury investigating Sandusky, whose case drew intense news coverage. Baldwin, 68, of White Oak claims she represented the university and later testified against the administrators before the grand jury.
“It's like someone didn't attend Ethics 101,” said Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University, where Baldwin once taught. “There is probably not a lawyer in Pennsylvania, other than her own lawyer, who would say she did not violate ethics.”
Baldwin, who served two years on the state's highest court, has declined to comment. Her attorney, Charles De Monaco, declined to comment.
In the past, De Monaco said Baldwin “at all times upheld her duties to the university and its agents.”
At least one judge agreed. In April, grand jury Judge Barry Feudale rejected a defense request to dismiss the charges because of Baldwin's roles. In a 16-page opinion, Feudale declared the defense assertion “lacks merit in fact and law.”
But Feudale ruled he lacked jurisdiction to hear the pretrial motion.
Baldwin, a Penn State alumna, chaired the university board of trustees before becoming its first in-house general counsel in 2010. She stayed until July 2012, just after a Centre County jury convicted Sandusky, 69, of abusing 10 boys in 15 years.
Penn State reached nearly $60 million in settlements this year with 26 men abused by the former coach.
Defense attorneys say Baldwin's missteps began when she accompanied Curley, Schultz and Spanier to the Harrisburg grand jury. Each man indicated Baldwin was his attorney at the proceedings and described how the school handled allegations about Sandusky, court records show.
Prosecutors used the testimony to develop perjury charges against the administrators, who are charged with 24 criminal counts, including conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children. Baldwin's testimony before the grand jury led the administrators to claim she breached attorney-client privilege.
“They testified under the false pretense that they had a lawyer with them, because she says she wasn't their lawyer,” said Walter Cohen, a former state attorney general.
He said the court should disregard Baldwin's testimony and the testimony the men gave in her presence, as some defense attorneys have argued.
The move would likely undermine the perjury charges, but probably not the other criminal counts, some independent legal observers said. Even if Baldwin let the men believe she represented them, they would not necessarily escape prosecution for alleged lies under oath, the analysts said.
They said precedents are tough to find for the case, which has become a hot topic in legal circles.
“No one was forcing them to lie — if someone determines that they did lie,” said Jim Robenalt, a partner at the Thompson Hine law firm in Cleveland. “Just because you think you didn't have counsel doesn't give you the right to perjure yourself.”
That Joe Paterno, the late Penn State head football coach, took his own attorney to a grand jury appearance in 2011 suggests Baldwin might have warned administrators about the limitations of her service, Robenalt said. He teaches a seminar on Baldwin's legal woes for the Ohio State Bar Association.
“You owe your duties to the legal entity. It's an abstract thing,” said Eric Esperne, an in-house lawyer at Texas-based Dell Inc. “For people to understand that is very difficult. People get confused.”
He said Baldwin acted in Penn State's best interests. She told an investigator she alerted administrators early on that her professional duty was to Penn State, according to a university-commissioned report.
The trial for Curley, Schultz and Spanier has yet to be scheduled. Their hearing begins on Tuesday in Harrisburg.
Attorneys for the men did not respond to requests for comment. The Attorney General's Office, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.
Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.