Penn State home county judges out of Sandusky case

Posted Nov. 22, 2011, at 7:50 p.m.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s status as a free man could change if more accusers surface and police file new charges, as his lawyer fears.

Sandusky, now awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused eight boys over 15 years, could then find himself with a high bail he might not be able to pay, criminal defense lawyers said Tuesday.

Sandusky was released after his Nov. 5 arrest on $100,000 unsecured bail, meaning he didn’t have to post any collateral to be freed.

His attorney, Joe Amendola, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that he was worried there may soon be new criminal allegations against his client.

“My concern is, if they bring new charges based upon new people coming forward, that bail’s going to be set and he’s going to wind up in jail,” said Amendola, who has not returned multiple phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Prosecutors “don’t have to start all over,” said veteran Lemoyne defense attorney Bill Costopoulos, who’s not involved in the case. “The additional counts would result in another arrest, another bail piece, another preliminary hearing date being set.”

All four common pleas judges in Centre County, where Penn State is located, removed themselves from potentially presiding over the case and were replaced Tuesday by outside jurists, the Pennsylvania court system announced.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts said in a release that the judges bowed out “to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest due to real or perceived connections” to Sandusky, the university or the charity for at-risk children Sandusky founded.

John M. Cleland, a senior judge from McKean County, was appointed to take over the case, though another judge, Kathy A. Morrow, was named to handle matters until Cleland can assume jurisdiction.

Cleland chaired the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, established in the wake of the “kids-for-cash” courthouse scandal in which Luzerne County judges were accused of sending children to private detention centers for kickbacks.

The court system said neither Cleland nor Morrow, president judge in Perry and Juniata counties, have any known connections to Sandusky, the university or the charity.

Morrow immediately signed an order to prevent people involved in the case from disclosing the name of an individual described by his lawyers as a victim of and witness to child sexual abuse.

The temporary order, issued at the request of two State College attorneys, instructed court officials and the parties to refer to him as “John Doe.”

The Centre County clerk’s office was told to seal any portion of the record that refers to him by name, and the motion seeking the order was itself sealed. Messages seeking comment from his lawyers weren’t immediately returned.

Also Tuesday, Sandusky’s preliminary hearing was rescheduled for Dec. 13 at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte. It will be handled by an out-of-county jurist, Westmoreland County Senior District Judge Robert E. Scott.

Scott replaced the district judge who set bail for Sandusky, Leslie Dutchcot of State College, who had ties to The Second Mile, Sandusky’s charity. The court order said the change was designed to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

If Scott has to make new decisions about bail, they would come in the context of public outrage over the allegations, which include charges that Sandusky found victims among boys being helped by The Second Mile.

“The more charges, the more serious it becomes, and of course I’ve heard public outcry that his bail is unsecured and it’s too low,” said Tunkhannock defense attorney Gerald Grimaud, who isn’t involved in the case. “Any new judge or district magistrate is not tone deaf. I’m sure they’re reading things in the news media and watching things on TV like everybody else.”

Until the preliminary hearing, prosecutors can seek to have bail modified by the district judge, said Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin. After that hearing, bail changes would have to be pursued by a county court petition, he said.

Martin said criminal complaints can also be amended before a preliminary hearing but afterward the defendant would have to be rearrested, and then the prosecution and defense would argue over whether to consolidate the two sets of charges for trial.

An attorney general’s office spokesman declined to comment on the Centre County judges’ recusal or about potential new charges against Sandusky.

The scandal has resulted in the ouster of Penn State President Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno and has cast a dark shadow over one of college football’s most legendary programs. Athletic Director Tim Curley has been placed on leave, and Vice President Gary Schultz, who oversaw the university’s police department, has stepped down.

Schultz and Curley are charged with lying to a grand jury and failing to properly report suspected abuse to authorities. Like Sandusky, they have denied the allegations.

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