Judge Makes Gag Order In Sandusky Case

04.10.12 | Bob Price

Instead of 200-some reporters begging for more time and more questions, they started grumbling for Joe Amendola to shut up already.

Dreaded was a repeat of the December court date, when Sandusky waived his preliminary hearing within a matter of minutes, and Amendola hijacked the spotlight by making his case to the media during three hours of interviews in bitter Pennsylvania 20-degree weather.

Since Sandusky was charged last year with sexually abusing 10 boys as far back as the 1990s, Amendola has done dozens of television interviews and has spent hours on the phone with newspaper reporters. He let Sandusky get on the phone with NBC’s Bob Costas just days after the arrest, spend two days interviewing with The New York Times, and then talk for several minutes after a February hearing.

The judge apparently has had enough.

A broad gag order was issued Monday morning by presiding Judge John Cleland.

Attorneys. Police. Spokespeople. Anyone who has or still works in the state attorney general’s office — even, presumably, Gov. Tom Corbett, the former attorney general. Private investigators. Potential witnesses and anyone speaking on their behalf.

All of them are asked to stop talking.

Sandusky is scheduled for jury selection in about two months — June 5 — and isn’t expected to be in court before that date.

But because of the mass publicity and a chatty attorney, the entire nation knows Sandusky’s defense strategy.

In a nutshell: He says that several of the accusers are lying and the rest jumped in on the case seeing dollar signs from Penn State. Sandusky never had sex with or did anything inappropriate with boys, Amendola says, but he did shower with them in a nonsexual way.

The saturation strategy has visibly upset prosecutors, who kept quiet at first, but grew increasingly vocal about the tactic.

 

After the February hearing, Senior Deputy Attorney General Joseph McGettigan III first told reporters he wouldn’t be talking publicly, but then ended up taking a few questions and making a statement as reporters shooed away Amendola.

At a hearing on Thursday, McGettigan was more comfortable and blunt. He called the hearing “pointless,” and told reporters he could try a case in a shorter amount of time than Amendola talks on the courthouse steps.

He also called Sandusky’s children’s charity The Second Mile “a victim factory” for the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach.

Former state Attorney General Walter Cohen, who left office before the Sandusky investigation began but who has been closely following the case, was a bit surprised by how far McGettigan went.

“I guess you could speculate on whether [McGettigan] said all that to shut up Joe Amendola. I don’t know. Joe McGettigan is a savvy trial lawyer,” Cohen said.

But does a gag order really hurt the defense, which has had more than five months of a captivated media audience to explain its side of the story?

“Clearly, this is an order that will have an impact on the approach by the defense to date,” said prominent midstate attorney William Costopoulos. “But I do not believe the impact will prejudice either side in any way. Enough has been said by everybody about this case, and what remains is picking the jury and having both sides present their evidence before the only audience that ultimately will matter to Mr. Sandusky and the commonwealth, and that is a jury of 12.”

In his order, Cleland wrote that it will be easier to get a fair trial if this “unprecedented publicity” is tempered.

“The court generally weighs the First Amendment issue against the Sixth Amendment rights of the accused to be fairly tried in the appropriate venue and in this case,” Costopoulos said.

Joe Amendola, attorney for Jerry Sandusky, on Thursday's proceedings Joe Amendola, attorney for Jerry Sandusky, on Thursday's proceedings Joe Amendola, attorney for Jerry Sandusky, on Thursday's proceedings Watch video

In February, at Sandusky’s request, Cleland decided to deny the prosecution’s request to pick a jury from outside Centre County.

After debating whether Penn State has too high a financial and emotional impact on the area, Cleland ruled to let attorneys try to find 12 jurors who could be fair.

“The closer you get to trial, the most significant the issue of taint becomes,” Cohen said, calling the order a smart move by Cleland. “... The ultimate issue is not if [jurors] know anything about the case, but if [they’ve] formed an opinion about what [they] know.”