Fri Nov 11 05:16pm EST
If you were holding your breath to hear Joe Paterno's side of his abrupt ouster from Penn State this week, you might want to stop: Confirming initial speculation on Thursday, Paterno has retained a Washington, D.C.-based defense attorney who will do all of the now-former coach's speaking for him. Per a statement from Paterno's son, Scott:
Like everyone who has watched this story unfold, my father is experiencing a range of powerful emotions. He is absolutely distraught over what happened to the children and their families. He also wants very much to speak publicly and answer questions.
At this stage, however, he has no choice but to be patient and defer to the legal process. He cooperated fully with the Grand Jury and he will continue to cooperate with the investigation as we move forward.
That attorney is J. Sedwick "Wick" Sollers of the D.C. firm King & Spalding, who specializes in health care and pharmaceutical cases as well as carefully foppish hair. His first order of business: Directing the Paternos to cease all public statements and ignore all requests from the media. The second: Determining what action Paterno could potentially face for sitting on information that his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was a possible child molester for at least nine years while Sandusky continued to have regular access to the Penn State locker room and other facilities.
[ Related: PSU victims' lawyer: Firing Paterno was a mistake ]
Prosecutors in the case have said Paterno is not a target in any criminal investigation because he passed allegations against Sandusky on to his boss, now-former athletic director Tim Curley (who was subsequently indicted last week, along with another official, Gary Schultz, who also heard the allegations as head of the university police department). Because he failed to report Sandusky to police or bar him from the program after he was informed by a credible eyewitness, though, Paterno could face a litany of civil suits from victims and families of victims who charge him with failing to uphold his obligation to stop a predator.
Sandusky is facing 25 felony counts of deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and indecent assault against at least eight victims over more than a decade. New reports this week, however suggested that number may now be as high as 20 victims and growing as the publicity of the case generates new accusations.
Meanwhile, escalating pressure has also forced the university to put Paterno's eyewitness, wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, on administrative leave. According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, McQueary said in a conference call this evening that his career — at least at Penn State — is effectively finished. "I wanted to let you guys know I'm not your coach anymore," he said. "I'm done."
(Update, 7:27 a.m., 11/12. Originally, the Patriot-News reported McQueary was in protective custody, based on a comment he made to players on the conference call. Sports Information Director Jeff Nelson corrected that late Friday night, however, saying McQueary was not in protective custody, and was only making an attempt at "black humor.")
McQueary had already been ruled out of Saturday's game against Nebraska due to "multiple threats" from people unhappy with his inaction when he originally saw Sandusky and the child. Instead of stopping the abuse, McQueary called his father and then waited until the next morning to report the incident to Paterno.
"It became clear coach McQueary could not function in a coaching role under these circumstances," said acting university president Rodney Erickson.
The length of McQueary's leave was not defined, though it's likely to last through the end of the season. Erickson said there were talks about cancelling the rest of the Penn State football season, but the university decided not to punish current players for the actions of their leaders.
[ Video: PSU victim's mother speaks out ]
Even though McQueary's inaction was the first in a series of missteps taken by university officials, McQueary might not face further punishment: According to the Associated Press, McQueary could be protected under the Pennsylvania whistleblowers law. When asked whether McQueary would ultimately be fired, Erickson said, "there are complexities to that issue that I am not prepared to go into at this point."
Gerald J. Williams, a partner at a Philadelphia law firm, said Pennsylvania law is broad in protecting a person who reports wrongdoing, as long as that person is part of a governmental or quasi-governmental institution, such as Penn State.
Asked if McQueary was protected by whistleblower status, trustee Boyd Wolff said Friday after a board meeting, "He's a witness. He's different from the others, so he has to be treated differently."
As an emeritus trustee, Wolff is a non-voting member, though he said he took part in deliberations this week.
According to Williams, such whistleblower protections could include any kind of adverse employment action — such as being fired, demoted, ostracized or punished — although a court, ultimately, would determine whether the person is protected if they bring a claim.
The penalty on an employer can include monetary damages, attorneys' fees and reinstatement of the employee, he said.
The only way McQueary could lose his Penn State position without repercussion would be if the team's new coach decided not to keep him on staff. McQueary has not spoken publicly, though his father told the New York Times earlier this week that he wants to get his story out. The family has now been advised by legal council to keep quiet.
More Penn State scandal coverage:
• Dan Wetzel: Process of healing begins for Penn State
• Timeline of Joe Paterno's Penn State coaching career
• Y! News: Ex-Pa. senator backs firing of friend Joe Paterno