Penn State could soon be paying out millions of dollars to victims of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky after disclosing Friday it had tentative agreements with some of the young men who say he sexually abused them.
The school does not plan to comment on specifics until the deals are made final, which could happen in the coming weeks. University president Rodney Erickson called getting approval for settlement offers “another important step toward the resolution of claims from Sandusky's victims.”
“As we have previously said, the university intends to deal with these individuals in a fair and expeditious manner, with due regard to their privacy,” Erickson said in a statement issued after the university's Board of Trustees approved a settlement resolution.
Sandusky, 69, was convicted a year ago of 45 counts of child sexual abuse, including violent attacks on boys inside school facilities. He is serving a 30- to 60-year prison term and maintains he was wrongfully convicted. He is pursuing appeals.
More than 30 claimants have come forward with sexual abuse allegations involving the longtime assistant to late coach Joe Paterno. The deals will be limited to a range of dollar values and subject to final approval by a committee empowered by the board to handle the claims. A university spokesman said the school plans to release the total amount it pays to settle lawsuit but will not provide amounts for individual cases.
Sandusky's arrest in November 2011 touched off a massive scandal that led to the dismissal of Paterno, then Division I football's winningest coach, along with criminal charges against other high-ranking school officials and ultimately NCAA sanctions that included stripping Paterno of 111 victories.
Board chairman Keith Masser said it was part of getting past the scandal and the collateral damage it has done to the university.
“We're just chipping away at getting these issues behind us,” Masser said.
Legal experts say the “value” of a child sexual abuse claims depends on several factors, including the victim's age and the nature and frequency of the abuse. Many details about the Sandusky abuse claims have not been made public, but other molestation cases suggest Penn State may have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to several million, to reach settlements.
Ira Lubert, the trustee who chairs the Committee on Legal and Compliance, told the board that “tentative settlements have been reached on a number of existing claims” without detailing how many have settled, how many remain and how much money - individually or in the aggregate - might be involved.
Lubert said his committee was empowered to authorize the settlements itself, but thought it was important that the trustees approved the move in a public meeting. The trustees voted unanimously to make the settlement offers.
The committee was briefed in detail on the proposed settlements during a June 25 executive session and another such meeting Friday morning, before the trustees met publicly at Penn State-Fayette, a satellite campus near Uniontown, about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh.
Harrisburg attorney Chuck Schmidt said his client was one who expects to finish a deal based on terms provided by the university over the past week. He said only confidentiality provisions remain to be ironed out.
“We have an offer, and we have, basically, an agreement with the client to accept the offer,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt's client, who filed a lawsuit that has been on hold, was not among those who testified at Sandusky's trial.
The firm of Feinberg Rozen LLP has been helping the university reach the settlements. It brokered mass litigation settlements stemming from incidents as varied as the September 11 terrorist attacks to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Virginia Tech shooting massacre.
Friday marked one year since the release of a university-funded report about its handling of the Sandusky scandal that was highly critical of the actions by Paterno, former president Graham Spanier and former administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.
Spanier, Curley and Schultz await a July 29 preliminary hearing on criminal charges over an alleged cover up of complaints about Sandusky. All three men deny the allegations.
Spanier remains a faculty member on leave, while athletic director Curley and vice president Schultz have retired. Paterno died last year of lung cancer.