Posted on 29 Jun 2012
The direct offer came at the end of a news release within an hour of Jerry Sandusky's conviction Friday on 45 counts of child sexual abuse: Penn State University wanted to talk to Sandusky's victims about money.
The university plans to invite victims of Mr. Sandusky's abuse to participate in a program to facilitate the resolution of claims against the university arising out of Mr. Sandusky's conduct, Rodney Erickson, Penn States president, said in the statement."The university plans to invite victims of Mr. Sandusky's abuse to participate in a program to facilitate the resolution of claims against the university arising out of Mr. Sandusky's conduct," Rodney Erickson, Penn State's president, said in the statement.
The message seemed obvious: the university wanted to avoid more embarrassment and criticism in civil court for not having done more to identify Sandusky as a threat to children, and wanted to deal with his victims "privately, expeditiously and fairly."
The offer might have struck some as oddly timed. But some lawyers for his known victims called it a smart public relations move, even coming so rapidly after the verdict. Others said they would be willing to meet with Penn State officials but would not let the university dictate the compensation process.
"You have to look at offers like this with a jaundiced eye," said Michael Boni, the lawyer for a victim who testified at Sandusky's trial this month. "On the surface it sounds great. But early overtures like this - and I'm not suggesting this is one of them - are often lowball offers."
Like the Roman Catholic archdioceses embroiled in lawsuits arising from the sexual abuse of children by priests, Penn State is legally exposed. Its liability became potentially greater after Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator of the Penn State football team, was criminally convicted of abusing 10 young boys.
Its legal exposure could get worse as more is learned about what Penn State officials did or did not do about Sandusky for more than a decade - and if more victims come forward.
"By making this plea public for victims to come forward, they're trying to find out the real extent of the potential claims to understand their exposure," said Ben Andreozzi, the lawyer for another victim who took the stand to testify against Sandusky.
Kenneth Feinberg, who administered the multibillion-dollar settlement funds after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said the university should expect more victims to come forward to meet with its officials.
"We learned in BP, if you build it, they will come," he said. "The minute you announce that there is money available for eligible, provable claims, human nature being what it is, everybody believes they have an eligible, provable claim."
He added, "This raises the very interesting question of who is eligible to be heard and what proof will be required to corroborate or justify the payments."
Thomas Kline, the lawyer for one known victim, said the compensation process could not begin with so much about Penn State's culpability unsettled or unknown. The independent investigation into the Sandusky scandal by Louis Freeh, a former F.B.I. director, has not revealed its findings. A federal investigation into Sandusky is continuing, as is the criminal inquiry being conducted by the Pennsylvania attorney general.
Gary Schultz, a retired Penn State vice president, and Tim Curley, the athletic director who is on leave, face trial on accusations of failing to report child abuse and then lying about it under oath.
Who will pay abuse victims is at issue in dueling lawsuits between Penn State and its insurer.
"The Freeh report is the next triggering mechanism to any constructive dialogue with Penn State," Kline said.
"I don't think any intelligent assessment can take place until the Freeh Report is issued, and we can evaluate whether it's full and complete," he added.
Jeff Anderson, the lawyer for two victims who did not testify in criminal court - one of whom filed a civil suit last year under the name John Doe A - said such suits might not be necessary if Penn State shared with victims the depositions and other documentation developed during Freeh's investigation.
"In these kinds of cases, the payment of money can be an important measure of accountability," said Anderson, a prominent lawyer for victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. "But before that, there must be more authentic and painful action to get to what really happened, who knew what when, and who failed these kids institutionally."
"It's painful, difficult and in some ways sorrowful, but it's always informative. That's the disclosure piece - the excavation of the crime and misdeeds that have to be uncovered."
He said compensation should be based on factors like the severity and frequency of the abuse; the vulnerability of the victims; and how the abuse affected them. But the calculations could be complex and wrenching.
"Some kids have a one-incident molestation or rape that can be more profoundly damaging - emotionally, physically and spiritually - than someone abused multiple times over the years," Anderson said.
A Penn State spokesman declined to comment on any element of the compensation process.
According to Feinberg and some of the lawyers, Penn State's process must pay victims even if the statute of limitations on the abuse has expired. "You don't leave anyone out on technicalities," Anderson said.
The lawyers also said that while Penn State would set up the compensation program, it must include neutral parties to establish the financial ground rules and make the final payment rulings.
"The death knell of a program," Feinberg said, "is if people believe there is too much subjectivity."