Penn State streamlines sex-abuse-claims process

Posted: October 28, 2012

Pennsylvania State University's board of trustees took a step Friday evening toward streamlining the process of settling civil claims with the child-sex-abuse victims of its former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky.

With little discussion and no opposition expressed, the board unanimously voted to give trustees on its legal subcommittee authority to oversee the settlement process and keep the rest of the board apprised.

"Penn State from the beginning wanted to make this easy so that the victims don't have even more trials and tribulations and so this is a defined process that if you are a victim, you can engage in," said Karen B. Peetz, chair of the trustees.

The settlements will not be brought before the board for a vote, and their content will not be disclosed publicly, said Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who will have the authority to execute the settlements on behalf of the university. The aggregate amount of the settlements will be released, he said. Erickson has said he hoped that most of the claims could be resolved by the end of the year.

Peetz noted that under the university's bylaws, the trustees were not required to approve civil settlements, because it's an administrative matter.

"That said, under the special circumstances surrounding these cases" and because the settlement amounts could be "significant, some level of board oversight is appropriate and advisable," she said.

The majority of the trustees on the subcommittee are from the Philadelphia region. They include: Ira Lubert, chairman and cofounder of Independence Capital Partners, who serves as chair; Kenneth Frazier, a lawyer and CEO of Merck & Co. Inc., Whitehouse Station, N.J.; and Stephanie Deviney, a lawyer at Fox Rothschild in Exton. The board also asked a fourth trustee, Adam Taliaferro, a lawyer at Duane Morris in Cherry Hill, to consider joining the group.

"I certainly want to make sure that I have adequate time. Whoever joins the committee," Taliaferro said, "it's not a light lift."

The fifth member of the committee is Keith Eckel, a Lackawanna County farmer.

The committee has been meeting weekly on the Sandusky matter and will continue to do so as negotiations proceed with 20 to 25 young men who have come forward as victims of Sandusky. He was sentenced earlier this month to a minimum of 30 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 young boys, all whom he met through his charity, the Second Mile.

Spearheading the negotiations are Kenneth R. Feinberg, the mediator who managed the Sept. 11 victims-compensation fund and the settlements with those affected by the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill, and his law partner, Michael K. Rozen, who addressed trustees at the meeting. The university hired them last month.

Erickson said he had no estimate of how much the settlements could cost the university or its insurance providers.

"This is not a process where Penn State has instructed us, Here's an aggregate amount of money - go allocate it," Feinberg said. "There is no fund. We have separate, individual cases."

Rosen said that, while he and Feinberg were aware of 20 to 25 plaintiffs, the number could increase or decrease. All of the lawyers of the victims have said they were "ready, willing, and able" to discuss a settlement, he said.

Attorney Tom Kline, who is representing the 26-year-old man known as Victim Five, called the board's vote "a necessary step."

For settlements to be effectively negotiated, he said, "there needs to be authorization by the board of trustees."

Not everyone supported the board's action. Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship said the board should have waited for the outcome of the trial for the university's two former administrators, suspended athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz. Both men have been charged with failing to report allegations against Sandusky and for lying to the grand jury. They are scheduled for trial in January.

". . . We respect the fundamental concept of due process," the group said in a statement. "We must have the patience and resolve to allow all of the facts to be uncovered. . . ."

Erickson countered: "This is the time to move forward. . . . In many instances, civil liability is different from criminal liability."

Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq.

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