Justices weigh discipline against Penn State's ex-counsel

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has heard arguments in Philadelphia over whether the chief lawyer for Penn State when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke should face public censure

ByThe Associated Press
September 10, 2019, 5:33 PM
FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2006 file photo, then Allegheny County Judge Cynthia Baldwin appears before the Judiciary Committee in Harrisburg Pa., where she picked up support for her nomination to Pennsylvania's highest court. Proposed discipline against Baldwin, who was the chief lawyer for Penn State when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke, is the focus of a state Supreme Court argument in Philadelphia. The justices on Tuesday, Sept., 10, 2019, will hear lawyers for Baldwin and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel debate whether Baldwin should face public censure. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Pennsylvania's Supreme Court considered arguments in Philadelphia Tuesday over whether the chief lawyer for Penn State when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke should face public censure.

The state's lawyer disciplinary board recommended that punishment in March for Cynthia Baldwin, who is a former state Supreme Court justice. The board did not recommend that her license be suspended or taken.

The Legal Intelligencer said only four of the court's seven justices participated in the argument, and there was no indication when they might rule.

The board has leveled several claims against Baldwin regarding her conduct as investigators ramped up their probe of Sandusky. Sandusky, Penn State's former defensive football coach, is serving a state prison sentence on a 45-count child sexual abuse conviction in 2012.

The board said Baldwin had a conflict of interest because she represented both the university and three of its top administrators during a grand jury investigation into Sandusky's conduct.

In an August filing, Samuel Napoli, an Office of Disciplinary Counsel lawyer arguing the case against Baldwin, said she had "betrayed her clients" by testifying before a grand jury about their communications. She's also accused of having engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, according to Napoli, because her allegedly improper testimony to the grand jury led to the dismissal of some of the criminal charges faced by former Penn State President Graham Spanier, former Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley.

A board hearing panel that considered the case before the full board took it up had recommended the case against Baldwin be dismissed. The lawyer disciplinary proceedings are administrative, not criminal, and the board indicated it felt a license suspension was not warranted.

Baldwin's lawyer, Charles DeMonaco, said in a brief last month that the justices should side with the hearing committee, not the full board, and conclude she did not violate the rules of professional conduct for lawyers.

"It is nearly impossible to gauge what is in the best interest of a client or to provide sound legal advice when the client lies about his or her situation and the underlying facts," DeMonaco said.

Baldwin accompanied Curley, Schultz and Spanier to grand jury appearances in 2011, before Sandusky was charged with child molestation.

Schultz and Curley pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment on the eve of trial in 2017 for their response to a 2001 complaint about Sandusky showering with a boy and served brief jail terms. Spanier was convicted of child endangerment, but that charge was recently thrown out by a federal judge, a decision under appeal by state prosecutors.

The Legal Intelligencer said justices Sallie Mundy, Kevin Dougherty, Christine Donohue and David Wecht heard argument Tuesday, and that justices Max Baer, Thomas Saylor and Debra Todd did not participate.

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