Penn State challenges jury’s $7.3 million award to McQueary
Penn State University on Monday asked a judge to overturn the verdict in Mike McQueary’s defamation case, calling the $7.3 million a jury ordered it to pay the former assistant football coach last month “excessive” and “grossly exorbitant.”
In filings in Centre County Court, lawyers for the school said McQueary failed to prove university officials were to blame for the damage to his reputation after he emerged as a central witness in the case against Jerry Sandusky and three administrators charged with covering up his serial sex abuse.
What’s more, they said, senior Judge Thomas Gavin, who presided over the civil case, favored McQueary throughout the proceedings — in part by forcing a trial before the resolution of child endangerment charges against former university President Graham B. Spanier, ex-athletic director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz.
“The facts and circumstances presented in this case are intrinsically intertwined with the key factual issues of the underlying criminal matters,” lawyer Nancy Conrad wrote. “Without testimony from Schultz or Curley at trial, the court denied the university the opportunity to present its defenses.”
As part of his lawsuit, McQueary had claimed that Curley and Schultz lied to him in 2001 by saying they would take action after he told them he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a campus locker room shower.
McQueary also alleged Spanier defamed him in a statement issued after Sandusky’s November 2011 arrest, in which he expressed support for his two charged colleagues.
Spanier testified at the defamation trial, but Curley and Schultz did not, asserting their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in depositions earlier this year.
In its filing, Penn State argued that the men’s testimony could have been crucial in explaining their decision to ban Sandusky from campus facilities but not notify police or child-welfare authorities.
The school also contended that Gavin, in his instructions to the jury, incorrectly said that Curley and Schultz were required by law to report sex-abuse allegations to the authorities, a mischaracterization of state law at the time.
Gavin, who must rule on their post-trial motions, is also still weighing a separate whistleblower claim McQueary filed against the school. He alleges the school let him go from his $104,000-a-year coaching job because of his involvement in the Sandusky case.
Now divorced and living back at home with his parents, he says has been unable to find work and endures attacks from avid Penn State fans who blame him for damaging the football program’s reputation and the firing of head coach Joe Paterno.
Penn State lawyers maintain McQueary lost his job in a routine staff shake-up under Paterno’s successor and simply wasn’t good enough to get another one.