HARRISBURG, Pa. – Penn State may never be able to fully shake off the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, but news that one victim has settled and other claimants may be soon follow marks a legal milestone after almost a year of negotiations.
Attorney Tom Kline said Saturday that a 25-year-old suburban Philadelphia man known as “Victim 5” in court filings had completed the agreement with the university, the first to come to terms with the university that once employed Sandusky as an assistant football coach.
Another attorney, Mike Boni, one of four lawyers collectively representing 10 claimants – including the young man whose complaint triggered the Sandusky criminal investigation – said Sunday those claims were also close to being resolved.
“I’d be troubled if it didn’t happen this week,” Boni said. “We’re not signed off, but we’re close.”
Another lawyer, Jeff Anderson, said his two cases are not that near to being resolved.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Anderson told The Associated Press on Sunday. “If somebody’s talking about they have deals done, it’s not us.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Saturday that 26 of 31 claims are close to being settled, which would validate the strategy used by Penn State to compensate Sandusky’s victims, said Richard Serbin, an Altoona lawyer who has represented sex abuse victims for 25 years.
“I would be very surprised if any of these cases ends up in trial,” Serbin said. “They may end up going forward in litigation, but that does not mean they will not be resolved before getting to the courthouse steps.”
Penn State announced a year ago – the day Sandusky was convicted of 45 criminal counts – that it hoped to compensate his victims fairly and quickly. Penn State’s trustees have authorized some $60 million to be used for settlements.
The deals appear to be coming together as three former school administrators await trial for an alleged cover-up and other actions after getting complaints about Sandusky. A district judge recently ruled there was enough evidence to send the cases against former president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz and former Tim Curley to county court for trial. All three deny the allegations.
The settlements may not affect those cases at all, Serbin said.
“I certainly don’t think it impedes the prosecution, but I’m not quite certain it helps them, either,” he said.
Kline’s client, who took the stand at Sandusky’s criminal trial and sentencing last year, signed off on the agreement on Friday and should get paid within a month.
The man was identified by name in court, but the AP does not name people who are victims of sex crimes without their consent.
Kline said that as part of the agreement, his client assigned his claim to Penn State, effectively giving the university a better chance to recover the money from other parties, such as The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youth that Sandusky founded.
Boni said the same question was an issue in the settlement talks involving Victim 1, who has come forward to identify himself as Aaron Fisher and written a book about the experience.
“It enables Penn State to go after the insurers and Second Mile,” the Sandusky-founded charity where he met at least some of his victims, Boni said. “Whether Penn State ever does or not, who knows.”
A spokesman for the university declined comment Saturday on Victim 5’s deal, saying the school “continues to make progress on multiple settlements.”
At Sandusky’s trial, Victim 5 testified that he met the coach at a Second Mile camp in 1999 and went to Penn State games with him. He said that Sandusky groped him in the showers during a workout – the incident occurred after another assistant coach reported seeing Sandusky attacking a child in a locker room shower.
Kline said the agreement does not prevent Victim 5 from talking or writing about his experience, although he has no plans to do so.
“We hope that there is closure, but I can tell you on his behalf that he understands there (are) continuing proceedings, because this case has had, and continues to have, many long tentacles,” Kline said.
Sandusky, 69, is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence for child molestation and related offenses. He is pursuing appeals.
The response of university leaders, including former coach Joe Paterno, was heavily criticized in a report commissioned by the school last year. Paterno died in January 2012.
The school has spent nearly $50 million on the Sandusky scandal, not including any payments to the victims and accusers.