Legal Ethics

Former Penn State general counsel cleared of ethics violations in Sandusky investigation

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An ethics panel has found that the former general counsel of Penn State did not violate any ethics rules in her representation of Penn State officials during the investigation into child molestation complaints against assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The disciplinary board panel recommended dismissal of all ethics charges against the lawyer, Cynthia Baldwin, report Corporate Counsel, PennLive and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Baldwin is also a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice. The panel’s Oct. 26 report is here.

The Pennsylvania Office of Disciplinary Counsel had alleged that Baldwin represented three college officials in grand jury proceedings without informing them of potential conflicts of interest and had failed to explain it might be advisable to assert a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. She also was accused of disclosing client communications to a grand jury.

The three officials later were convicted and sentenced for an inadequate response to a 2001 locker room incident between Sandusky and a boy. Sandusky was convicted in June 2012 for sexually abusing 10 boys and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

The ethics panel found that, based on the information available to her at the time, Baldwin reasonably concluded that the interests of the officials and Penn State were consistent, and the officials effectively consented to the joint representation.

Nor did her testimony improperly reveal protected information, the panel said. The Pennsylvania ethics rule on client confidentiality has an exception that allows lawyers to reveal information they think is reasonably necessary to establish a defense to a criminal charge or to respond to allegations against them.

The panel said there was ample evidence that Baldwin was being investigated for obstruction of justice for failing to produce subpoenaed materials, and she was allowed to describe how she sought the documents from the officials.

Baldwin reasonably thought it was necessary to reveal the client information to mitigate the use of her legal services in the crime of obstruction of justice and to defend herself against accusations of misconduct, the panel concluded.

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