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11.14.11

Penn State Facing More Civil Suits

A second legal team is filing at least one civil suit against Penn State University and administrators. Jessica Bennett and Jacob Bernstein report.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal, which has enveloped Penn State University's top brass, a second legal team has now been formed and is planning multiple civil suits against the school.

Today, Andrew Shubin, a central Pennsylvania civil-rights attorney, is announcing his involvement in conjuction with the firm Katz, Marshall, and Banks, LLP.

The partnership suggests that they will be representing multiple victims, though this could not be confirmed by Shubin late Monday.

The scandal has claimed four top-level administrators at Penn State in addition to Sandusky, who faces 40 counts of sexual abuse that his former colleagues are alleged to have helped cover up.

On Saturday, The Daily Beast revealed that another area lawyer, Benjamin Andreozzi, was representing one or more other victims in a similar attempt.

“This may be the most high-profile sexual abuse case ever,” says Andreozzi, of Harrisburg.

Eight victims of alleged sexual predator Sandusky, the 67-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach, have been listed in a grand-jury filing—and at least one more is believed to have come forward since then. A source inside the state police told The Daily Beast last week that phone lines set up for victims and tips have been flooded with calls.

Attorneys close to the cases believe the number of victims will grow dramatically in the coming days. “If the allegations are true, the institution’s silence, and failure to act, not only emboldened a predator, but silences the victims,” says Shubin. “These children must have believed that the institution didn’t care about them, because it did nothing to protect them.”

There are a few ways civil lawsuits might come together, say experts. It’s likely that attorneys would file a federal civil-rights action—arguing that the administration violated the victims’ 14th Amendment right to bodily integrity in its failure to notify the appropriate authorities. This is a tactic commonly used in cases involving sexual assault.

“I think things are going to be fast and furious over the next weeks,” one attorney said.

“A civil-rights lawsuit,” says Shubin, “is a way in which victims of abusers can hold perpetrators—and those who enabled and covered for them—accountable when all other systems have failed them.”

There is also the possibility of a state action against individual administrators that would charge them with negligence. A suit looking for monetary damages from Sandusky is also likely. And then, of course, there is Second Mile, the nonprofit that Sandusky founded, from which he allegedly recruited his prey. There is plenty of speculation about how much administrators at the organization knew—as well as whether the center could lose $3 million in state funding promised to it for the construction of a 45,000-square-foot learning center that was supposed to come with dorm rooms, locker areas, and showers.

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for childhood victims of sexual abuse to file a civil claim is age 30—which would give attorneys some time, since most of the known victims are in their 20s.

And as for the criminal filings? At least one attorney has speculated that there could be more to come in the way of a federal charge against Sandusky for taking his victims across state lines. A woman who had children with Sandusky’s adopted son has also filed a court plea to keep Sandusky from having unsupervised contact or overnight visits with his grandchildren. According to the Patriot News, which broke the story of the Sandusky investigation in early 2010, Matt Sandusky took his children to his father’s house the same day the former coach was arrested.

Will more victims ultimately come forward? “Each person deals with it in a different way, and some people may feel comfortable and it may be part of the healing process,” says Andreozzi.

But the healing process won’t be easy.

“Very few people come out unfazed by something like this,” says Alan Perer, a Pittsburgh attorney who represented dozens of victims in the Catholic archdiocese scandal. “They grow up, they either have problems with alcohol or drugs, it goes on for the rest of your life. You just don’t get over it.”

With reporting by Kevin Cirilli in State College, Pa.