A retired Potter County judge has been named by the state Supreme Court to preside over the lawsuit filed by the surviving family of football coach Joe Paterno and others against the NCAA for the sanctions imposed against Penn State in relation to the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.
Senior Judge John B. Leete had been recommended by court officials after Centre County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Thomas King Kistler requested an out-of-county judge for the case. Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille signed an order released Thursday appointing Leete to preside over the proceedings. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which recently succeeded in having a similar challenge from Governor Tom Corbett thrown out, has yet to respond to the Paterno case.
Leete was the president judge of Potter County from 1988 through 2010 and is a member of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges. He has chaired the juvenile and family law sections, according to a biography released by the court Thursday.
When Sandusky was prosecuted just over a year ago, Senior Judge John M. Cleland was called in from McKean County, which neighbors Potter, to preside.
Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator at the center of the scandal, was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse by a Centre County jury.
Late last month, Paterno family members, along with several former Penn State football players and members of the university board of trustees, filed their lawsuit against the NCAA over the heavy sanctions imposed stemming from the Sandusky scandal.
The complaint challenges a consent decree Penn State agreed to in order to avoid the so-called "death penalty" — a complete ban from a school's participation in a given sport for a given time. The plaintiffs have argued the NCAA coerced the university to agree to the consent decree, improperly used the findings of the Freeh report against the school's football program, a report the lawsuit said was flawed to begin with, and tarnished the reputation of Paterno, his son, Jay Paterno, and others in the Penn State football and university community.
Penn State is not named in the lawsuit as a defendant. Louis Freeh, the former FBI director whose law firm conducted an internal investigation on behalf of Penn State following the criminal allegations against Sandusky, is not a defendant.
The sanctions imposed under the decree include a $60 million fine levied against the football program, a four-year ban on post-season play, a drop-off in scholarships, and the vacating of seasons worth of victories for the university's storied football program in games coached by Joe Paterno, who died not long after being fired in the wake of the scandal.
The lawsuit takes issue with the NCAA and its top officials for the handling of the Sandusky scandal, claiming the trade organization did not have the authority to impose the sanctions it did for matters that were not related to the athletic department, and that it violated its own bylaws and constitution in doing so.
The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the NCAA's actions and the consent decree were unfair and unlawful, along with a permanent injunction preventing the NCAA from further enforcing any of the sanctions. It has asked for compensatory and punitive damages as well as their legal costs.
Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed Corbett and the state of Pennsylvania's lawsuit against the NCAA, saying the NCAA's penalties did not rise to the level of "commercial activity" under the federal Sherman Antitrust Act. Had the lawsuit established commercial activity, U.S. District Chief Judge Yvette Kane of the Middle District of Pennsylvania said Corbett still would not have met the standard for antitrust — the crux of her decision in that case.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in Paterno v. National Collegiate Athletic Association responded to Kane's ruling by saying they were not concerned, noting their lawsuit raised different legal issues and challenged the sanctions on different grounds.