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SI columnist: Did Paterno break the law?

By | Posted - Nov. 10, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Is the worst over for former Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno or could he face criminal charges?

Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly has said she will not file charges against Paterno for failing to report alleged child sexual abuse by former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

But a Sports Illustrated column from sports law professor and NBA-TV's on-air legal analyst Michael McCann says Paterno still could face obstruction of justice and perjury charges.

McCann says the key issue is to what degree Paterno may have misrepresented or minimized to Penn State's athletic director what he was told by an assistant who says he witnessed Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in the locker room in 2002.


Apparently there are inconsistencies in the testimony, which could suggest Paterno or his assistant lied under oath. If further testimony suggests Paterno purposely misrepresented the facts to make them seem less severe, McCann contends an obstruction of justice charge could apply.

Penn State's Board of Trustees acted swiftly in replacing the school's president and Paterno.

John Surma, the board's vice chair, said, "The board of trustees and Graham Spanier have decided that effective immediately, Dr. Spanier is no longer the president of the university. In addition, Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately."

McCann says that doesn't mean the school, or Paterno, won't be sued.

McCann says it could be argued Paterno was negligent as Sandusky's supervisor in protecting the victims and adequately warning police. That would mean Paterno also could be in violation of Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law.

McCann reiterates that "Paterno is at least publicly regarded by law enforcement authorities as a witness, rather than as a possible defendant." He also points out that law enforcement has said that, while Paterno appeared to do the bare minimum, "he technically satisfied his legal obligations under the Child Protective Services Law."

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