Education Law

Merck CEO to Investigate Penn State Football Scandal; Ex-Coach Paterno Hires King & Spalding Leader


In an effort to address charges of child sex abuse against a former assistant football coach at Penn State and accusations that other school officials didn’t do enough to alert law enforcement about what they knew of the situation years ago, a prominent alumnus and attorney has been put in charge of an internal investigation.

Trustee Kenneth Frazier, a Harvard Law School graduate who is the chief executive officer of Merck & Co. and its former general counsel, will head the investigative committee. Before joining Merck, he was a partner of Drinker Biddle & Reath in Philadelphia. The committee will have as its vice chairman Pennsylvania’s education secretary, Ronald Tomalis, who also is a Penn State trustee, reports Bloomberg.

The university’s board of trustees met publicly today and welcomed a new interim president following its ouster of the school’s former president and its legendary longtime football coach, Joe Paterno, earlier this week. Although neither faces any criminal charge, the trustees removed them in the wake of criminal child sex-abuse charges against retired former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, 67, who is accused of victimizing as many as eight boys over a period of approximately 15 years.

Two other school officials were charged with perjury and failing to report an alleged assault on a child by Sandusky in 2002, as required by state law, according to Bloomberg and Reuters.

Frazier said after today’s trustee gathering that the committee will have the power to hire independent counsel and will make its findings public, reports the Associated Press.

“That’s absolutely what we intend to do,” Frazier said. “The purpose of this investigation is to ensure that the public understands everything that we learn in this investigation and a report will be made completely public as quickly as we possibly can.”

A central issue in the scandal is what Penn State officials knew and when they knew it concerning an alleged 2002 incident in a Penn State locker room witnessed by a then-graduate student, Mike McQueary, 28 at the time, who is now an assistant football coach. He also has not been charged but has been put on paid leave, the school announced today.

McQueary allegedly saw Sandusky in what he thought was sexual activity in the locker room in 2002 with a boy of about 10. He reportedly fled, talked to his father, told Paterno the next day and spoke a week or so afterward with the two officials charged with perjury. At least the latter two contacted the university’s president, and Paterno passed the information on to another Penn State office, according to the Associated Press article and CSNPhilly.

However, it appears that key information may not have been conveyed. Former president Graham Spanier told the grand jury he’d been told that an assistant to the two men had felt “uncomfortable” about Sandusky’s “horsing around in the shower” with a boy, the AP says, quoting from the grand jury’s report.

All involved have been criticized for not calling the police. The Washington Post provides a copy of the grand jury report.

Meanwhile, Paterno, who says he wishes in retrospect that he’d done more, has hired a lawyer of own. He will be represented by J. Sedwick Sollers III of King & Spalding, reports the Allentown Morning Call in an article reprinted in the Chicago Tribune.

Sollers is managing partner of the law firm’s Washington, D.C., office.

“My father’s desire is for the truth to be uncovered and he will work with his lawyers to that end,” said Paterno’s son, Scott, in a written statement today that described the former Penn State coach as “absolutely distraught” over the alleged abuse.

Although Paterno “wants very much to speak publicly and answer questions,” he has been instructed by Sollers not to do so, the statement continues.

An Am Law Daily article provides further details and notes that G. Scott Paterno is an attorney and political consultant who formerly worked for Duane Morris.

Because Penn State gets taxpayer funding, some argue that its records should be public, reports the New York Times. However, it was exempted from disclosure that a number of other state institutions have to make under the Pennsylvania Right to Know open records law.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “DA Who Didn’t Prosecute Sandusky Is Missing; Suspicions He Was John Doe Prisoner Proved Wrong”

CSNPhilly: “Report: McQueary in ‘protective custody’ “

Updated at 8:16 p.m. to link to grand jury report.

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