January 18, 2013
STATE COLLEGE — Penn State trustees on Thursday reviewed the way the university's top lawyer interacts with the school's governing body, including the types of legal issues to which trustees must be alerted – both issues central to board operations in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal.
The role of the general counsel and the office's interactions with the trustees have been under intense scrutiny amid the massive fallout from the scandal involving the retired assistant football coach and is even part of the legal defense being mounted by two former high-ranking officials facing criminal charges.
A trustees committee overseeing legal matters approved new guidelines for the general counsel that the full board is slated to vote on today.
The trustees began two days of regularly scheduled meetings by gathering in separate committees Thursday. A committee overseeing governance recommended making the university president and governor nonvoting members of the 32-person board, though a vote by the full board on that issue might not occur for at least a couple months as trustees weigh other reforms.
Current general counsel Stephen Dunham told legal committee trustees that the review of the legal issues at the university was initiated by recommendations from former FBI director Louis Freeh, who handled the school's internal investigation into the scandal.
The recommendations included what issues to take to the board and, even if they are approved today, as expected, the guidelines remain fluid.
Two former Penn State administrators who face charges related to the scandal have said they were illegally deprived of legal representation when Penn State's previous counsel accompanied them to a grand jury appearance.
Retired vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley, who is on leave, were charged in November 2011 with perjury before a grand jury and failure to properly report suspected abuse.
Late last year, state prosecutors added new charges of endangering the welfare of children, obstruction and conspiracy against them, as well as former president Graham Spanier. All three men deny the allegations against them.
The guidelines approved by the committee Thursday outlined that the general counsel's first obligation was to report to, and represent the university, and that the Board of Trustees was its top constituent.