Former Penn State president asks federal court to halt criminal case

Former Penn State University president Graham Spanier sits courtside during the second half of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Penn State Nittany Lions game at the Bryce Jordan Center in January of 2013. 

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Former Penn State president Graham Spanier filed a federal lawsuit Monday that seeks to put an end to his state court prosecution for an alleged criminal cover-up of child sex abuse complaints about former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Spanier’s lawyers filed a complaint in federal court in Harrisburg that said his case was undertaken in bad faith and that it violates his constitutional right to due process of law.

Spanier awaits trial in Dauphin County court in Harrisburg, along with two of his former employees at Penn State: retired vice president Gary Schultz and retired athletic director Tim Curley. All three defendants are waiting for a decision by the trial judge regarding claims that their right to legal representation was violated by the actions of former Penn State general counsel Cynthia Baldwin.

Baldwin’s actions, and decisions by Frank Fina, a former state prosecutor, figured prominently in the 15-page complaint for injunctive relief filed by Spanier, who faces charges of perjury, obstruction, failure to report suspected child abuse, conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children.

Spanier’s lawyers argued that when Fina subpoenaed Spanier to appear before a grand jury, Fina "had no evidentiary basis to believe that Spanier was criminally culpable or that Spanier had information that would further the investigation."

Baldwin, Spanier’s lawyers wrote, accompanied Spanier to a grand jury appearance in 2011 and told the supervising judge she represented Penn State solely, and Fina did not correct Spanier when he identified Baldwin as his own lawyer. Baldwin also interjected during Spanier’s testimony as if she were acting as his lawyer, the new lawsuit said.

"Spanier thus reasonably believed that Baldwin was acting as his lawyer and on his behalf in the grand jury," Spanier’s lawyers wrote.

They also said that during Baldwin’s own grand jury testimony, in October 2012, she was questioned about conversations with Spanier "in the context of her advising him about the grand jury and its investigation."

"On information and belief, Fina never went back to (the judge) for a ruling on Baldwin’s attorney-client relationship with Spanier, Curley and Schultz and whether it was legally permissible for Fina to question Baldwin about her communications with Spanier," Spanier’s lawyers wrote.

A spokesman for the defendant, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, said the office was reviewing the lawsuit but had no immediate comment. Fina did not respond to a voicemail left seeking comment on Monday.