Christine M. Flowers: 2 women, and what they're fighting for

Posted: February 15, 2013

TWO WOMEN made news this month who probably have never met but who are well-aware of each other: Kathleen Kane and Sue Paterno.

Both women, strong-willed and determined, are waging crusades to defend something both of them hold dear: reputation.

In the case of Pennsylvania's newly minted attorney general, the reputation is her own, put on the line during a hard-fought campaign to become the state's first female prosecutor-in-chief. During the months leading up to her victory, Kane made a promise to the citizens of the Keystone State that if elected, she'd investigate her predecessor's handling of the Jerry Sandusky case.

It was the same man who shook her hand on Inauguration Day, Gov. Corbett. Most observers feel that although Kane might have some genuine sympathy for the victims of Sandusky's vile crimes, they know that the new A.G. is equally interested in scoring political points against her opponents in the GOP. This attractive, intelligent Democrat loses nothing by making good on her promise to open up the closets, root out the skeletons and hold up the dirty political laundry for a good, partisan airing.

It's relatively rare for one prosecutor to question the actions of another, particularly when it comes to a field in which she's not all that familiar. During her 12 years as an assistant district attorney, her focus was on murder and mental-health issues, and despite claiming that she had been involved in 3,000 or so cases, her opponents say that she prosecuted about two dozen. That's two dozen more than I, but it doesn't make her an "expert" on sex-crimes cases.

That's not to say she won't unearth some serious defects in Corbett's procedures. If it's found that during the three years the investigation was conducted, new victims were created because Sandusky was left on the loose, our governor may find himself in water hotter than Centralia's underground fires.

But right now, Kane is just polishing up her reputation at the governor's (and taxpayer's) expense.

Sue Paterno is also working to keep a reputation glowing, only it's not her own. It's her late husband's. JoePa has been gone for more than a year, but his presence is as visceral and as palpable as it was during those six decades he blessed the Happy Valley with his homespun character. His widow will never fully be able to expiate the stain of the Sandusky investigation. But she'll die trying.

I have to admit that I haven't examined with a lawyer's eagle eye the Paterno family report, which Mrs. Paterno discussed this week on television and in the press. I am glad that she and the family had an opportunity to point out some of the significant errors in the Freeh Report, a document that, when initially released, was immediately accepted as if it had been carved on two marble tablets and brought down from Sinai.

But I'm also aware that the family can't make any claims to objectivity and that this report was prepared as a love letter and memorial to a man that they, and so many of us, deeply loved. There is no question that he was treated poorly by the media and, more importantly and egregiously, Penn State. The way that he was simply fired instead of being allowed to retire with grace and dignity is one of the reasons that I can legitimately say the trustees have his blood on their hands. Anyone who denies that Joe Paterno died of broken heart, which was only tangentially related to his cancer, is either blind, or complicit in his vilification.

And yet, all of this being true, Sue Paterno is the nobler of these two women. While Kathleen Kane attempts to show herself as a champion of the boys, it's more than clear that she's scoring political points with their tragedy. She is entitled and, yes, obligated, to find out whether there were ethical or criminal violations in the Sandusky investigation. But the only one who will win anything at all if Corbett falls is bonnie Kathleen. The victims probably won't be able to sue the state due to sovereign immunity. It's also unlikely that they'll feel any closure just because the former A.G. is shown to be incompetent, or worse.

But Kane will be able to say she slayed the dragon, the one that refused to protect the children of our commonwealth because he cared more about his job and his political connections (and his pocketbook) than justice.

Sue Paterno, on the other hand, gains very little from this crusade on her husband's behalf. She'll be the target of journalists who tell her to just pack it in because, in the end, "Joe knew." She won't get too much respect from the people who already believe that the final words were written when ex-FBI director Louis Freeh signed off on them.

But she doesn't care. If it changes one mind, lightens the stain one shade, she'll consider it a victory. And she can give at least that one back to Joe.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.



comments powered by Disqus