A Pennsylvania appeals court on Friday dismissed several of the more serious criminal charges against three former Penn State administrators over their handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.
The Superior Court ruled that Cynthia Baldwin, the university's then-general counsel, should not have testified against Gary Schultz, Tim Curley and Graham Spanier during grand jury proceedings, a violation of attorney-client privilege.
The three-judge panel threw out perjury, obstruction and related conspiracy counts against Spanier, the school's former president, and Schultz, a former vice president. It also tossed charges of obstruction and a related conspiracy count against Curley, the school's former athletic director.
"Ms. Baldwin did not adequately explain to Curley that her representation of him was solely as an agent of Penn State and that she did not represent his individual interests,'' wrote Judge Mary Jane Bowes. "Although Curley was certainly aware that Ms. Baldwin was general counsel for Penn State, this awareness did not result in Curley knowing that she represented him solely in an agency capacity.''
All three are still charged with failure to report suspected abuse and endangering the welfare of children. Curley also still faces a perjury count. Lawyers for Spanier and Schultz said the conspiracy charges were dismissed in their entirety.
"We are reviewing the decision and will have no further comment until we've had an opportunity to do so,'' said Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, which is prosecuting the three men.
Spanier attorney Tim Lewis said they have always been confident he will be vindicated.
"We are grateful that the court has so carefully considered the record and has concluded that very important rights of Dr. Spanier were violated,'' Lewis said.
Tom Farrell, Schultz's lawyer, said the next move was prosecutors'. They could ask the full Superior Court to reconsider or seek an appeal to the Supreme Court, the state's top court.
He said a recent Superior Court decision awarding a new trial to Monsignor William Lynn, in a case that also involves criminal charges for handling of sex-abuse cases, could help Schultz defeat the remaining counts against him.
Schultz has asked to have the endangerment and failure-to-report charges thrown out and many of the motions related to those requests still have not been ruled on, Farrell said.
"I think the Lynn case creates real problems for the prosecution,'' Farrell said. "Further, I think this case is a much weaker case than the Lynn case, specifically in terms of whether any of the defendants were in a position where they had supervisory responsibilities over children or over other individuals who had supervisory responsibility over children.''
Caroline Roberto, a lawyer for Curley, said she was still analyzing the opinion but called it "the right decision, obviously.''
The appeals decision overturned a pretrial ruling by a county judge in Harrisburg that said Baldwin's role was not improper, clearing the way for trial. Schultz and Curley were first charged with Sandusky in November 2011. Charges against Spanier were added a year later.
Sandusky, Penn State's former assistant football coach, was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence. He maintains his innocence and is appealing.