HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A judge cleared the way Monday for former Penn State President Graham Spanier to pursue a defamation lawsuit against an ex-FBI director whose team issued a university-commissioned report critical of Spanier for his handling of complaints about Jerry Sandusky.
The decision comes despite a pending criminal case against Spanier that accuses him of covering up allegations about Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach who was later convicted of sexually molesting boys, including some on campus.
Judge Robert Eby ended a two-year hiatus in the lawsuit against Louis Freeh, saying he will deal on a case-by-case basis with any issues related to constitutional protections against having to give any self-incriminating testimony.
Spanier's lawyer, Libby Locke, said the case "comes down to exposing just the false and defamatory conclusions that Freeh reached in the Freeh report."
She added: "We're very excited to move the case forward and to vindicate Dr. Spanier's reputation."
Spanier, still a Penn State faculty member, does not intend to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Locke said, but that could be an issue for his co-defendants in the criminal case, former university vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley.
The Freeh report said Spanier told Freeh's investigators that he never heard anyone say Sandusky was sexually abusing children. Freeh said it was more reasonable to conclude that Spanier, Curley and Schultz, along with longtime head football coach Joe Paterno, "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the university's board of trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large."
More than four years after Curley and Schultz were first charged, all three are appealing a county judge's ruling that their criminal cases should proceed. They are charged with perjury, obstruction, conspiracy, failure to properly report suspected abuse and endangering the welfare of children.
The judge let Spanier add as a defendant Freeh Group International Solutions, which participated in generating the Freeh report.
Freeh's lawyer, Robert Heim, said the allegations are baseless.
"Mr. Freeh and his team did, at the request of Penn State, a full, complete and fair investigation," Heim said. "Mr. Spanier's claims that he was defamed are without any merit whatsoever."
The judge ruled against Spanier's request to add Penn State as a defendant, saying the proposed breach-of-contract claims against the university do not involve sufficiently similar allegations of fact or law.
As a result of that decision, Locke said, Spanier will file a complaint against Freeh and his team and will initiate a separate lawsuit against Penn State. She said the elements will closely mirror what was contained in a proposed complaint filed with the judge in March, when Spanier sought to lift the stay.
Sandusky, who spent decades as an assistant to Paterno, was convicted in 2012 of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and is serving 30 to 60 years in prison.
Spanier was forced out as university president in November 2011, shortly after Sandusky's arrest.
This story has been corrected to show the first name of the ex-FBI director is Louis, not Louie.