Ruling on Spanier conviction could open the door to renewed defamation suit against Louis Freeh
A federal judge’s order dismissing a child endangerment conviction against former Penn State President Graham Spanier if it stands could open the door to another civil suit in the long-running legal imbroglio stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
Spanier, 70, was scheduled to report to jail this week to begin serving a minimum sentence of two months when U.S. Magistrate Judge Karoline Mehalchick in Scranton dismissed the conviction stemming from Spanier’s handling of allegations against Sandusky.
Sandusky, 75, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing boys in and around the university campus over a period of more than a decade.
Spanier, who headed Penn State for 16 years before being ousted in Nov. 2011 on the heels of Sandusky’s arrest, has always maintained he was innocent of charges that he failed to report allegations against Sandusky. While fighting the charges, he filed a defamation suit in Centre County Common Pleas Court against former FBI director Louis Freeh. He alleged that Freeh, who had penned a lengthy report for the university’s board of trustees, acted with “actual malice and disregard for the truth” when he wrote that Spanier knowingly turned a blind eye to allegations against Sandusky.
Although Judge Robert Eby dismissed the suit as moot following Spanier’s 2017 conviction, he left open the possibility that it could be reinstated should Spanier’s conviction be overturned.
It’s unclear whether the former university president, who could face a retrial, will petition to have the suit reinstated.
Libby Locke, Spanier’s lawyer in that suit, declined to comment Wednesday when asked about it.
Mehalchick, who dismissed Spanier’s conviction, said prosecutors should have charged him under a 1995 statute that was in place when the alleged incident occurred in 2001, rather than the 2007 law that they cited. She gave Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro three months to retry the case.
Shapiro vowed Wednesday to appeal what he described as a “last-minute and highly unusual” ruling that overturned Spanier’s conviction.
Once one of the most powerful college presidents in the country, Spanier has spent the last seven years fighting to clear his name.
Throughout that time supporters, including several members of the Penn State board of trustees, have rallied to Spanier’s cause.
Former alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano, who has long maintained that Spanier, his senior managers and the late hall of fame football coach Joe Paterno were wrongly vilified in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, hailed Tuesday’s court ruling.
“For the first time in 7 1/2 years, I feel good,” Lubrano said.
“This decision by a federal judge at least temporarily restores my faith in the judicial system, and I think in this case that justice has finally been served,” Lubrano said.
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said Spanier, who received a multi-million dollar severance package from the school following his ouster as president, remains a tenured professor on paid administrative leave.
Powers declined to disclose Spanier’s salary. A national survey of faculty salaries at public universities for the 2017-18 school year, however, pegged the average salary for a full professor at Penn State at $151, 488.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .