Commonwealth Court upholds Endowment Act relating to Penn State sex-abuse fine; orders university joined as party to litigation

By Jon Campisi | Apr 10, 2014

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court upheld a law passed in the wake of

the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal that was designed to ensure any penalty money paid out by Penn State University would remain in the commonwealth.

The state court shot down the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s argument that the law directing the fine money toward child sex-abuse prevention programs in-state was unconstitutional.

The court also ordered that Penn State be joined as a party to the litigation, which was brought by State Sen. Jake Corman, a Republican from Centre County, the home of Penn State.

The law, known as the Endowment Act, was passed in the wake of the child sex-abuse scandal involving Sandusky, a former assistant football coach for the Nittany Lions.

The NCAA levied a hefty $60 million fine against Penn State for its role in the scandal.

Corman had filed suit last year against the NCAA that sought to prohibit the organization from distributing the fine money outside of Pennsylvania.

The legislator had said he believed the money should remain in the commonwealth to benefit state organizations and children.

“I’m am pleased the Court ruled once again in our favor, stating that the legislation we passed to keep the fine money here in Pennsylvania was legal and constitutional,” Corman said in a statement. “To date, we have won every challenge the NCAA has put forth with regard to the legislation.”

The Commonwealth Court judge who issued this week’s ruling, Ann Covey, also ordered that Penn State be joined to the litigation as a party, a request that came in the NCAA’s April 2013 preliminary objections.

The NCAA had contended that Penn State was an indispensable party whose absence deprived Commonwealth Court of jurisdiction.

In ordering Penn State to be joined to the lawsuit, the court appears to be calling into question the validity of the consent decree itself, noted Corman, the senator and plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“This is an important development in the case and coincides with many calls for more scrutiny on the matter,” Corman stated. “We are reviewing the Court’s opinion and looking at what are the best steps moving forward. We are very pleased that the court has once again ruled in our favor on the legality of the legislation.”

State Treasurer Rob McCord, who is a co-plaintiff in the litigation, told local media that he, too, shares the court’s concerns about the legality of the punishments against Penn State.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Covey’s ruling was the fact that she called into question the possible illegality of the agreement entered into between the NCAA and Penn State whereby the university would pay $60 million in fines and subject itself to other penalties.

The other penalties in the consent decree include a four-year ban on post-season play, a four-year reduction of grants-in-aid, four years of probation, and the vacation of sports wins dating back to 1998.

While the validity of the consent decree was not before the court at this time, Covey took the time to point out that many innocent parties who had nothing to do with the molestation scandal would be affected by the punishments.

“High school athletes who had no involvement in the criminal acts were prevented from obtaining a free college education,” Covey wrote. “Student-athletes, trainers, coaches and support personnel who were taught and trained to be and do their best were stopped from competing and student-athletes from other colleges and universities were also precluded from competing against them by the prohibition against post-season play.

“Student-athletes, trainers, coaches, administrators and support personnel who had excelled in their jobs through hard work, practice, commitment, team work, sportsmanship, excellence and perseverance were told none of that mattered.”

Nevertheless, Covey wrote, the court would not make a legal determination that has such “far reaching implications without conducting a hearing on the disputed factual issues.”

In a statement released to the Associated Press, McCord, the state treasurer and co-plaintiff in the case, said that the ruling vindicates his and Corman’s view that the treasurer has an “important custodial role in receiving the NCAA’s penalty money.”

Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator for the Penn State football team, was convicted on 45 counts of child sex-abuse in the summer of 2012.

He was subsequently sentenced to between 30 and 60 years in state prison.

The conviction and sentence were upheld by both the state Superior Court and Supreme Court.

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