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No stranger to controversy, Sandusky's lawyer still well-regarded by colleagues

BELLEFONTE, Pa. - Joseph Amendola stood in front of a mass of local, state, and national reporters gathered outside the Centre County courthouse Tuesday and appeared at ease.

BELLEFONTE, Pa. - Joseph Amendola stood in front of a mass of local, state, and national reporters gathered outside the Centre County courthouse Tuesday and appeared at ease.

He apologized for arriving late after initially driving away with his client, former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, minutes after the man waived the most-awaited preliminary hearing in many years in the Keystone State.

Amendola was folksy, sometimes even joking. But that same lawyer, who showed so much decorum in conducting his news conference, is also known for aggressively cross-examining rape victims in court, and for nine years ago marrying a woman more than 30 years his junior.

"Every client is different. Every set of facts is different," said former Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira, who has had dozens of cases against Amendola. "He has the ability to strategize based on the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution's case and on the strengths and weaknesses of his own client."

In Commonwealth v. Jerry Sandusky, Amendola's tactics have been questioned since the beginning.

He was heavily criticized for allowing Sandusky to be interviewed by NBC's Bob Costas days after a grand jury returned a 40-count presentment accusing the former coach of sexually abusing eight boys. Later, he allowed his client to be interviewed by the New York Times.

In a surprise move Tuesday, Amendola told Senior District Judge Robert E. Scott that Sandusky was waiving his preliminary hearing.

In the weeks since Sandusky was first arrested, Amendola has been deluged with calls. Though it was difficult to reach him by phone, he often returned e-mails. In some cases, Amendola forwarded his statements for other news media to reporters elsewhere in an attempt to also answer their questions.

At the same time, he has been highly critical of the reporters covering the case, accusing the media of convicting his client before the case gets to trial.

He speaks passionately about Sandusky's case and what he perceives as a conspiracy against the man.

He's also not afraid to take shots at the prosecution.

On Tuesday, he went on about the attorney general's decision to physically arrest Sandusky when a grand jury returned a second presentment alleging two new victims last week. Amendola questioned the necessity when his client had been cooperative all along.

The 63-year-old lawyer called it a "dog and pony show."

"Jerry Sandusky maintains his innocence, and we're going to fight like hell for him," he declared.

Because of intense media interest, Amendola's personal life has been scrutinized as well. According to records in the Centre County courthouse, he had a child with a 17-year-old girl when he was 49. He married her five years later. They have two children, 14 and 9. Amendola filed for divorce last year, saying that the marriage was "irretrievably broken" and that his wife, Mary, had rendered his condition "intolerable and life burdensome."

He has asked for primary physical custody, which Mary Amendola is challenging. In an attempt to protect marital assets, she filed a request to have the court stop him from selling his baseball collection, which she said he told her was valued at $100,000.

Amendola drives a black BMW X5 sport-utility vehicle with a vanity plate that reads "JLA ESQ" and lives in a tony development in Boalsburg. He went to Penn State as an undergraduate and Georgetown University for law.

His law office, in a State College office complex, is unassuming. In the front reception area on Wednesday, a small wreath hung with a blue Penn State stocking inside.

Darrel Zaccagni, a retired detective from Bellefonte who now works with the Centre County Sheriff's Office, called Amendola "a class act.

"He knows his stuff. He doesn't get obnoxious," Zaccagni said. "He treats everybody the same - with dignity and respect."

Madeira described Amendola, who spent about three years as an assistant prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, as "straightforward."

"I could do business with him on a handshake," he said.

Madeira recounted the high-profile case in 2007 involving sexual assault charges against former Penn State tailback Austin Scott. Amendola and attorney John J. Karoly successfully persuaded the judge to allow evidence at trial about a man previously acquitted of raping the same woman.

Madeira ended up dropping the case and called Amendola a "pleasure to deal with, quite frankly, [even] when he does beat you."

Amendola, whose practice is busy, is one of the go-to attorneys in the area.

"He dresses sharp, and he doesn't advertise," Zaccagni said. "Everything is word of mouth."

Centre County Court Judge Thomas Kistler remembers one month a few years ago where Amendola had three jury trials before him - a rape case, a homicide, and a vehicular homicide.

Jim Bryant, who was a law partner of Amendola's in the late 1970s, called him a high-priced lawyer who chooses not to use strong-arm tactics.

"He's not a hammer. He [has] more of a life-insurance-salesman approach to things," Bryant said. "He'll listen to [his clients] and sympathize."

On certain types of cases, such as when a witness' testimony may be in doubt, Amendola is the best in the area, he said.

"Professionally, he's a cut above the rest of the defense trial bar in the area."