Penn State asks judge to have Paterno lawyers return notes of interviews after abuse scandal

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The fate of some 120 sets of notes from interviews conducted in the months after a child-abuse scandal rocked Penn State was in the hands of a Pennsylvania judge after a court hearing Wednesday.

The notes are from interviews that a legal team led by former FBI director Louis Freeh conducted with Penn State employees and others after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with child molestation in 2011.

The case pits former head coach Joe Paterno’s estate, his son Jay Paterno and former Penn State assistant coach Bill Kenney against the NCAA, and involves the university’s reliance on a report produced by the Freeh team as well as the NCAA’s since-abolished consent decree with Penn State.

Joe Paterno’s estate is suing the NCAA defendants for commercial disparagement, saying the consent decree made false and defamatory statements. Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney, now an assistant at Western Michigan University, argue the NCAA’s actions have prevented them from finding comparable jobs and that they were victims of a civil conspiracy by the NCAA.

On Wednesday, Penn State argued for the return of 2,000 pages of emails sent in 2011 and 2012 between the university’s trustees and its lawyers. Penn State, which was dropped as a defendant in the lawsuit in July, said it mistakenly turned over those records and the Freeh interview notes.

University lawyer Donna Doblick argued that the records raise privacy concerns because Penn State encouraged employees to co-operate and be candid. She also said the correspondence had no relevance to the case.

“That’s not grounds for clawing back the documents,” Paterno lawyer Patricia Maher replied.

Judge John Leete also must resolve a dispute about whether the NCAA can get access to some material surrounding a memoir by Jay Paterno, who served as an assistant coach under his father, and information about Jay Paterno’s brief candidacy for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor in 2014. The NCAA also seeks more information about his contacts with a public relations firm working for the Paterno family’s law firm.

Jay Paterno dropped out of the Democratic contest for lieutenant governor in March 2014, and the NCAA’s lawyers said they want to know more about how he and others viewed his status at that time — an issue that could affect the claim his reputation was damaged.

Maher told Leete that the NCAA was on “a fishing expedition” for material it could use as a distraction.

“Our position is they are not entitled, wholesale, to drafts and other communications related to the book,” she said.

She has told the NCAA that Jay Paterno does not, for example, have polling data surrounding his foray into politics. An NCAA lawyer told Leete they were looking for information about his correspondence with advisers about whether to run.