Cynthia Baldwin, general counsel at Pennsylvania State University, sits in the middle of a proverbial firestorm.

Former defensive coordinator Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky was arrested on Nov. 5 on allegations of child rape that span 15 years.

The major players are well known. Sandusky, Penn State icon and longtime coach Joe Paterno, former athletic director Tim Curley, former vice president of finance and management Gary Schultz, former president Graham Spanier and Mike McQueary, the only known witness to the rape allegations.

Baldwin is the only high ranking official involved in the scandal who is neither male nor white.

The university’s Board of Trustees has fired all of the above mentioned, except McQueary who has been placed on administrative leave.

Prior to Penn State Baldwin was a partner at the Pittsburgh firm Duane Morris LLP.
She was the first African-American woman elected to the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas where she served in the civil, family and juvenile division.

Pennsylvania’s attorney general launched its investigation into charges against Sandusky in 2009. A year after a mother of one of the alleged victims reported her concerns to local high school officials.

Baldwin, a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, was named the university’s first in-house counsel in Jan. 2010.

“In casual conversation there were several men who told me that because I am a woman and not conditioned in the hierarchy of power in collegiate sports that I couldn’t understand the complexity of the equation as to why the men in the Penn State scandal who were told about these incidents of abuse of children didn’t immediately call the police,” observed Dionne Koller, associate professor in the University of Baltimore School of Law. Koller is also the director of UB’s Center for Sport and the Law.

In an op-ed in the Nov. 21 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Koller questions whether a woman in a leadership role at Penn State’s athletic program would have made a difference in how reports of sex abuse were handled.

“Ultimately, we will never know,” she concluded.

During their testimony before the grand jury in Jan., Baldwin represented both Curley and Schultz.

“I wouldn’t give her position as university counsel a lot of weight in regards to this case because I know that a lot of times they are out of the loop with what’s going on in the athletic department,” said Koller.

“In general, if these were allegations brought against the university and people that have capacity as representatives of the university, I would say it’s not unusual that the university general counsel get involved,” she said.

“My question would then be, to these individuals that testified before the grand jury, why not hire your own counsel? Because it seems to me that they would have interests that would be potentially be adverse to the university’s or the university’s interests are adverse to theirs.”

Both Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report to law enforcement the 2002 incident that McQueary allegedly witnessed and said he reported to Paterno. Both men acquired outside counsel shortly before those charges were filed against them.

Baldwin, a Penn State alumnus, also served on the Board of Trustees before taking the position as general counsel. She was elected chairman of the board from 2004 to 2006.

The Patriot-News recently reported that board members deny any prior knowledge of the investigation and subsequent arrest of Sandusky. Leaving many to wonder just how much Baldwin and others might have known before the scandal broke.

A statement from a press release made by ousted president Spanier announcing Baldwin’s hire seemingly forebodes the scandal. “We are fortunate to have someone with vast legal expertise at the highest level and also a thorough understanding of the University and its needs,” he wrote. “Her oversight during this transition will allow us to implement a model for legal services that addresses our anticipated future needs.”

Calls to Baldwin’s office were not returned by press time.


Melissa Jones

Special to the AFRO