According to an investigative report, Penn State trustees said they felt former president Graham Spanier and former general counsel Cynthia Baldwin downplayed the seriousness of the grand jury investigating allegations that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted boys on the university’s campus.

Penn State didn’t have an official Office of General Counsel until 2010, when former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Interim Justice Baldwin filled the general counsel role and took on the responsibility of creating the office. Prior to her coming on board, State College-based McQuaide Blasko served as outside counsel for years, with partner Wendell Courtney taking the lead during the years in question in former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s report.

According to Freeh’s report, Baldwin, who cooperated with the investigation, was initially against the idea of having an independent investigation of the matter involving Sandusky.

Baldwin emailed Spanier after Sandusky’s Nov. 5, 2011, arrest and said, “‘If we do this, we will never get rid of this group in some shape or form. The board will then think that they should have such a group,’” according to the report, which stated that Spanier agreed with Baldwin’s assessment.

Baldwin’s attorney, Charles A. De Monaco of Fox Rothschild, said Baldwin was the GC during the time of the investigation and her cooperation with the investigators was substantiated in the report.

“Both she, and her Office of General Counsel, cooperated fully with the Special Investigative Counsel led by Judge Freeh,” De Monaco said.

Freeh Report Highlights
Serious Governance Lapses at Penn State

When asked about how Baldwin characterized the grand jury investigation to the board, why she didn’t hire outside counsel, or how she explained her role as counsel in the grand jury, De Monaco reiterated that her cooperation on those issues was demonstrated in the report. He said it would be inappropriate to comment further.

According to the timeline of events outlined in Freeh’s report, Baldwin first became involved in the Sandusky matter between late December 2010 and early January 2011 when she learned from the Attorney General’s Office that subpoenas would be forthcoming for three school administrators: former vice president of business and finance Gary Schultz, former head football coach Joe Paterno and former athletic director Tim Curley. She informed Spanier of this, met with the three who were getting the subpoenas to talk about Sandusky, and called Courtney to see what he knew of Sandusky.

A call from The Legal to Courtney was not returned.

In January 2011, Courtney told Baldwin about the 1998 incident  [see main story, page 1] after she learned about it from an investigator, said someone contacted Children and Youth Services about the situation and told CYS that Penn State was advising Sandusky to no longer bring kids to the university’s locker rooms.

According to the report, Courtney then emailed Schultz about his conversation with Baldwin and said he told Baldwin what he remembered and that Baldwin “‘did not offer why she was asking, nor did I ask her. Nor did I disclose that you and I chatted about this.’”

Trustees gave Freeh and his team the overall sense that Baldwin and Spanier painted the investigation as not an important issue for the university or not directly related to the university. According to the report, one trustee said Spanier showed the board “rainbows” and not “rusty nails.”

In one of his findings related to the university’s response to the grand jury investigation, Freeh said Baldwin advised some university personnel that Sandusky’s access to the Lasch Building could not be terminated because of his emeritus status and the fact that he hadn’t been convicted of a crime. The report didn’t elaborate on who was asking and why.

Freeh noted in the report that when Baldwin spoke to the Attorney General’s Office in December 2010 regarding the issuance of subpoenas, she did not then seek assistance of an attorney experienced in addressing criminal investigations or internal investigations.

Baldwin told Freeh’s investigators that she did not investigate the Sandusky matter or look for emails from Schultz, Paterno or Curley that might relate to the grand jury investigation.

There have been questions about Baldwin’s role representing the university and its officials during grand jury testimony. Schultz and Curley said they thought she was representing them, while Baldwin has said through a spokesman that she was representing the university. The spokesman said no one objected when she said she was representing the university and she was allowed to sit in on the testimony of Schultz and Curley.

According to Freeh’s report, Baldwin told Freeh’s investigators that she went to the grand jury appearances as the attorney for Penn State and that she told Schultz and Curley that she represented the university and that they could hire their own counsel if they wanted to.

In his recommendations, Freeh suggests Penn State should complete the development of its General Counsel’s Office. He said it should develop a mission statement that clearly defines the office’s responsibilities and reporting obligations to the board.

Freeh recommended the office staff be expanded to provide broader coverage of routine legal issues including employment law and that the office be given a sufficient budget to hire specialized outside counsel when needed.

Baldwin has since stepped down as part of a planned transition. She has been replaced by new GC Stephen Dunham.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.

Ben Present can be contacted at 215-557-2315 or Follow him on Twitter @BPresentTLI. •