A coalition of media organizations, including the Inquirer and the Daily News, asked a judge Thursday to unseal court records surrounding settlements that Pennsylvania State University paid to accusers of Jerry Sandusky who said they told head football coach Joe Paterno or his assistants about their abuse as early as the 1970s.
"Public interest in these proceedings is immense," attorneys for the news outlets contended in a motion filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. The information in the records, attorney Craig J. Staudenmaier wrote, "may shed further needed light on a matter that is of serious public concern - sexual abuse of children over decades by an employee of the largest public university in the commonwealth."
The settlements came to light last week in a ruling in a dispute between Penn State and its insurer, Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Insurance Co., over who should cover the cost of the nearly $93 million the school has paid to 32 Sandusky accusers since 2013.
In his opinion, Common Pleas Court Judge Gary S. Glazer cited claims from a man who alleged he told Paterno in 1976 that Sandusky, then an assistant football coach, had molested him - decades before the date that state prosecutors and an independent report had previously cited as the earliest point the head coach was said to have learned of his assistant's sexual misconduct.
Glazer also cited allegations from accusers who said they told other athletic department officials about incidents of "inappropriate contact" between Sandusky and minors in the 1980s.
None of the allegations has been aired publicly or proved in court. Details of the claims and settlements remain under seal or veiled behind confidentiality agreements.
But the passing mention of the claims in Glazer's opinion instantly revived a scandal Penn State had hoped had finally faded.
The Paterno family has denied any allegation the head coach knew about Sandusky's sexual abuse of children decades ago. And although the university acknowledged settling an allegation that dated to 1971, school officials in recent days said they could find no evidence in their files to support claims that the coaches knew, or to indicate that the accusers told them as much during settlement talks.
The motion to unseal the records was filed by attorneys representing the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the Associated Press, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com.
"Given the interest in and concern about this case, I think it's very important that the judge makes these records public," said Stan Wischnowski, senior vice president of Philadelphia Media Network and executive editor of the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com. "Not only would it instill a high level of confidence in the judicial system, but it would also potentially get us closer to the truth in a matter of great public importance to the commonwealth, its citizens, and beyond."
In their filings, the news organizations' attorneys cited the controversy stirred by the revelations and argued that, given the heightened public interest, those claims could be fairly reported with sensitivity to the accusers.
"The information concerning when these acts occurred, the circumstances surrounding them, and the evidence in support of these claims, or lack thereof, must be made public," the attorneys wrote. "Allowing these records to be made public will quell rumormongering and unfounded conjecture."
The university began settling claims with accusers in 2012. The university hired lawyers Kenneth Feinberg and Michael Rozen to help negotiate the settlements. That October, the board of trustees agreed to give members on its legal subcommittee authority to oversee the settlement process and keep the rest of the board apprised.
Trustees Ira Lubert, chairman and cofounder of Independence Capital Partners, who served as chair, and Keith Eckel, a Lackawanna County farmer, and former trustees Stephanie Deviney, a lawyer at Fox Rothschild in Exton, and Kenneth Frazier, a lawyer and CEO of Merck & Co. in Whitehouse Station, N.J., served on the committee.
In August 2013, lawyers announced that a 25-year-old man who said that he was a child when Sandusky abused him in a campus shower became the first to receive a multimillion-dollar settlement. Two months later, the university announced it would pay nearly $60 million to resolve claims with him and 25 other Sandusky accusers.
Rozen has not returned calls in the last week. He previously said there was a wide disparity in the payouts, based on factors including severity of the abuse, location, time, and the accuser's credibility.
He described three areas of claims: those from before 1998, when the first report of abuse by Sandusky was investigated and dismissed; those between 1998 and the 2001 incident in which former graduate assistant Michael McQueary said he reported seeing Sandusky assaulting a boy in the shower; and those after McQueary alerted Penn State officials.
Assaults before 1998 were assigned the lowest value because of little if any evidence that the university should have known at that point, Rozen said at the time.
In his opinion, Glazer noted that there was no evidence that the allegations from the 1970s and 1980s had been reported up the chain of command at Penn State.
Under terms of the settlements, the victims agreed not to sue the university or the Second Mile, the charity Sandusky founded.
In April 2015, the university approved more settlements with Sandusky accusers, with one trustee calling the payout "an extraordinary" sum. In total, the school says it has paid nearly $93 million to 32 accusers.
The latest claims have again stoked controversy over Paterno's legacy. The university fired him in late 2011 after Sandusky was indicted. Paterno, who was never charged, died of lung cancer early in 2012.
Last year, the NCAA restored the 111 wins it initially stripped from his record in the wake of the charges. But the large bronze statue of the coach - removed after Sandusky's 2012 conviction - has not been returned to its post outside Beaver Stadium.
Sandusky, meanwhile, is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence after his conviction for sexually abusing 10 children.