All Centre County Common Pleas Court judges recuse themselves in Penn State case

By Jon Campisi | Nov 25, 2011

All of the judges on the Centre County Common Pleas Court bench have recused themselves in the case involving a former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach accused of molesting a slew of underage boys.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts announced that the recusals are “intended to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest due to real or perceived connections” to Penn State, the university at the center of the controversy, and the Second Mile, a charity started in the late 1970s by former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Earlier this month, a grand jury presentment charged Sandusky with sexually abusing eight boys beginning in the late 1990s and through to the early 2000s.

Sandusky is said to have met some of his alleged victims at the Second Mile, an organization dedicated to underprivileged youth.

Because of the judges’ recusals, the Centre County president judge had requested that the AOPC assign an out-of-county judge to handle “forthcoming matters related to the case,” the AOPC announcement stated.

The judge who has been chosen to take over is McKean County Senior Judge John M. Cleland, who has since retired from the bench, but is available to hear cases upon request.

Until the jurist is able to assume jurisdiction, the AOPC announced, various motions and petitions filed by counsel with respect to the Sandusky case will be heard by President Judge Kathy A. Morrow of Pennsylvania’s 41st Judicial District, which comprises Perry and Juniata counties.

Neither Morrow or Cleland has “any known connections” with Penn State or the Second Mile, nor any “officers or representatives of those entities,” the AOPC stated.

Cleland, a judge since 1984, has served as president judge of McKean County and has been a senior judge on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, according to the AOPC. He has also served as chairman of the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice.

Morrow, a jurist since 2004, had been in private law practice since 1982 until her judicial election.

Earlier in the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal, the AOPC announced that another judge who had initially been involved in the proceedings was replaced after her connections to the Second Mile were discovered.

Judge Leslie Dutchcot, who handled Sandusky’s arraignment, was replaced after what some criticized being a lenient bail proceeding. She had let Sandusky go on $100,000 unsecured bond, enabling the former Penn State sports figure to leave the courtroom without putting down any collateral.

The decision drew criticism after it was discovered that Dutchcot had been a Second Mile donor.

Judge Robert E. Scott of Westmoreland County had been assigned to take over for Dutchcot.

Scott was assigned to handle Sandusky’s preliminary hearing, originally scheduled for Dec. 7, but since pushed back a week. The hearing will now take place on Dec. 13 at 8:30 a.m. at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa.

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