By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - Three former Penn State officials head to a state appellate court on Tuesday in a last-ditch bid to avoid trial on charges they tried to hamper an investigation of the child molestation case against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Lawyers for former Penn State President Graham Spanier, former athletic director Timothy Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz were expected to argue that the men did not receive effective legal representation from then-university lawyer Cynthia Baldwin when they appeared before a grand jury investigating Sandusky’s crimes.
Oral arguments in the case in Superior Court in Harrisburg come after the three men were charged in 2012 with perjury, obstruction, child endangerment, criminal conspiracy and failure to report suspected child abuse for not reporting Sandusky's assaults on boys.
Sandusky, 71, is serving a prison sentence of 30 to 60 years for molesting 10 boys over a 15-year period, some in the campus football showers.
Spanier, 67, Curley, 61, and Schultz, 65, are accused of covering up Sandusky's crimes in a "conspiracy of silence" to protect the image of the school, a powerhouse in the world of college football, prosecutors said.
The school's late head football coach, Joe Paterno, who was fired after Sandusky's arrest in November 2011, was also aware of the incident, prosecutors have said.
The three school officials are accused of lying to a grand jury when they said they were unaware of a 1998 allegation that Sandusky had showered with a boy. Baldwin helped the men prepare for their grand jury testimony.
The issue in court on Tuesday is whether Baldwin was representing them as individuals or merely as employees of the university, her main client. If she was not representing them as individuals, they contend they were denied their right to counsel. If she was, they contend she violated attorney-client privilege by testifying against them before a grand jury.
The appeal focuses on a ruling in January by Dauphin County Common Pleas Judge Todd Hoover that Baldwin represented the university and therefore could testify against them.
Legal experts said Baldwin's role as the university's lawyer robbed the men of their right to effective individual counsel.
“They should have had counsel dedicated to their own legal best interests,” said Arthur Donato of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Peter Cooney and Susan Heavey)