Attorneys See Tough Job for Feinberg in PSU Case

, The Legal Intelligencer

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If Ken Feinberg wants to add "quickly and successfully settled Penn State claims on the Sandusky sex-abuse scandal" to his resume, he's going to have to think outside the box.

That was the point made by attorneys for several of the men suing the university for its handling of the sex-abuse allegations against its former defensive coordinator and convicted child rapist, Jerry Sandusky. The plaintiffs attorneys said there's simply no precedential guidance for a case where top administrators who knew of allegations against a staff member but let the claims stop at their desks for years while the abuse persisted, as alleged, in neighboring corners of the university.

Penn State announced last week it would be bringing on Feinberg and his partner Michael K. Rozen — who worked on the 9/11 victim fund, settlements related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and other massive victim compensation plans — to "facilitate the possible settlement" of outstanding litigation related to claims of sex abuse by Sandusky.

Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse in June, awaits a near-certain effective life sentence scheduled to be handed down next month.

If there's no case like Penn State's, there's no settlement amount to guide it, plaintiffs lawyers said.

"If Penn State is going to evaluate this under conventional values, I don't think [the claims] will ever get resolved," said Slade McLaughlin, who represents a man known in court papers as Victim 1.

McLaughlin cited what he called the "outrage factor" and the prevalence of the abuse in distinguishing his client's claim.

If the Penn State legal team says: "Let's canvass the country and see where they've settled — If that's the position they take, I don't think [the university] will be well received by our client."

Thomas R. Kline, who is representing a man known as Victim 5, agreed.

"In order to resolve these claims, Penn State, through Feinberg, of necessity is going to need to think outside of what they perceive as historical values of these claims given the nature of the misconduct and the gravity of the claims," Kline said. "There is no cookie-cutter approach that can be used to settle the claims. I don't view conventional mediation as a tool to settle the claims."

And, as the attorneys pointed out, mediation was not the proper term as Penn State unilaterally brought on Feinberg and Rozen to facilitate discussions.

With that out of the way, the attorneys were unanimous in welcoming the team's breadth of experience and reputation for settling things sooner rather than later. They all said the hiring of Feinberg and Rozen was a step in the right direction.

One Philadelphia plaintiffs attorney who is not representing any of Sandusky's accusers said Feinberg would be fair to the victims but would not be intimidated by the impressive legal resumes at the other end of the table.

"He is a national name, from that standpoint, from a public relations standpoint, that bodes in Penn State's favor," said Ken Rothweiler, of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck. "It gives the impression that Penn State wants to get this over with in a way that doesn't shortchange the victims."

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What's being said

  • Jeff Spangler

    How about a down payment of a few million to every claimant with some other form of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) to follow on the final figure? I hope at least one plaintiff refuses to accept either confidentiality or settlement and forces the case to a public trial by jury. That's the only way to achieve closure for the victims and render justice to the men at Penn State who allowed this savagery to recur.

  • LulaineRDLegalFunding

    This is probably going to be the toughest issue Mr. Feinberg is going to have to deal with. Sexual abuse isn't quantifiable like the BP claims or even the 9/11 attacks. There was some monetary value at least you can start from. Sexual abuse cause physical, mental and emotional abuse and there is no number that can fix that. This is going to be a long and hard settlement for both parties.

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