Jim Boyle Sep. 18, 2014, 5:12pm


Lawyers representing former Penn State President Graham Spanier have until Oct. 31 to complete the discovery phase over the question of whether or not the defamation case against Louis Freeh, who led the third party investigation into the school's handling of sexual abuse accusations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, belongs in federal court.

District Judge Malachy Mannion of the of the Middle District of Pennsylvania has ordered a Nov. 14, 2014, hearing to determine whether the defendants' jurisdiction diversity will allow the case to be transferred to his court. After Freeh filed to remove the case to the Middle District, Spanier moved for an order to remand the suit to the Centre County Court of Common Pleas.

The main issue at hand is determining the nature of a merger between Freeh's law firm, Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan and Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton and the citizenship of the partners. Freeh argues that none of the partners at Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan are Pennsylvania residents, meeting the diversity requirement to keep the case in the federal jurisdiction.

Spanier's attorneys countered that the merger with the Pepper Hamilton and information on the Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan website said that one of its partners lives in Pennsylvania. The defendants responded that the website is outdated and the partnership does not create inherent citizenship for diversity purposes.

Freeh's law firm handled the Penn State investigation and the subsequent 2012 report which stated Penn State officials including Spanier likely concealed information relating to the crimes perpetrated by Sandusky on the young boys. Spanier filed a writ of summons in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas and claims the report contains false and defamatory statements.

He won a stay of proceedings until the completion of the criminal case filed in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas. Spanier's attorney, Elizabeth K. Ainslie, a lawyer with the Philadelphia firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, argued Spanier’s civil action and the paralleling criminal case against him and the other two former Penn State officials are predicated on the same allegations and could greatly prejudice Spanier.

“There is likely to be significant overlap in the witnesses called for each case, and witnesses may refuse to testify in this matter on Fifth Amendment grounds, leading unfairly to adverse inferences against Spanier in this case and an inability to fairly litigate his claims,” Ainslie wrote.

Spanier, along with former university Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Timothy Curley, are facing criminal charges relating to the sex-abuse scandal, which include obstruction of justice, child endangerment and perjury. The three former higher-ups stand accused of failing to report allegations of child sex-abuse perpetrated by Sandusky.

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