Monday, November 14, 2011

PA Courts, then Joe Paterno

What can we learn from the tortuous events of last week here in Central Pennsylvania, which unfolded following criminal charges filed against a former Penn State University coach alleged to have molested or assaulted many young boys?  See: Thirty-Third Investigating Grand Jury Presentment (Nov., 2011; 23 pp.; PDF).

Juvenile dependency proceedings can result from similar initial complaints, then investigations, of child neglect, abuse, or assault by a caretaker. The Presentment does not mention the word "dependency", but the common theme is protection of minors.

We cannot change past events.  People involved can be criticized, fired, imprisoned, and sued, as a judgment; but are those actions a healing "remedy"?
rem·e·dy  (rm-d)    n. pl. rem·e·dies
1. Something, such as medicine or therapy, that relieves pain, cures disease, or corrects a disorder.
2. Something that corrects an evil, fault, or error.
3. Law A legal order of preventing or redressing a wrong or enforcing a right. * * *
One commentator today recommended some remedies that could be initiated by someone at the center of the controversies.  In his article How Paterno can promote healing, posted by CNN (11/14/11), Prof. Jeffrey W. Pollard, of George Mason University (and a past president of both the American Board of Counseling Psychology and the American Academy of Counseling Psychology), made a suggestion -- to Joe Paterno:
Ironically, it is Paterno who is now uniquely able to help child sexual abuse victims summon the courage they need and to use this tragedy as a teachable moment that will benefit many. What should he do? * * *
Paterno is in a unique position to educate the nation that reporting child sexual abuse, and supporting those who have been harmed, often involves more courage than standing up to a blitzing all-American linebacker. 
Late in life, baseball legend Mickey Mantle admitted that his hard drinking had harmed his family. It also led to alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver, and Mantle's untimely death at age 63. In a Sports Illustrated cover story and other forums, Mantle urged others not to do what he had done and to get treatment for alcoholism. 
Through humility, and concern for others, it was Mantle's finest hour, on or off the field. 
Paterno's finest hour, which would facilitate healing for child sexual abuse victims, greater public education and more offenders' being locked up could still be ahead of him. 
More than any other play Paterno has had to call, this is clearly the most important one. But this is not a game: it is about children's lives. Let us hope and pray he gets it right.
If Paterno did so, he would be in good company -- Pennsylvania judges and the Commonwealth's court system.

A set of criminal prosecutions in 2008 arising from Luzerne County, PA, investigations, simply labeled thereafter by the media as the "Kids for Cash Scandal", is described in Wikipedia:
The "Cash for Kids" scandal unfolded in 2008 over judicial kickbacks at the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Two judges, President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan, were accused of accepting money from the co-owner and builder of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities, in return for contracting with the facilities and imposing harsh sentences on juveniles brought before their courts in order to ensure that the detention centers would be utilized.
Ciavarella and Conahan pleaded guilty on February 13, 2009, pursuant to a plea agreement * * *.  [Reparagraphed; footnotes omitted.]
Responses to that scandal were not limited to criminal prosecutions or civil lawsuits, but led into extensive study and then institutional changes, as represented by the Pennsylvania Courts' issuance of the Pennsylvania Dependency Benchbook (May, 2010):
The Pennsylvania Dependency Benchbook is a comprehensive reference guide designed to assist family court judges and child dependency practitioners in the process of helping abused and neglected children and their families. The Benchbook was written by Pennsylvania judges for Pennsylvania judges. * * *

The document is a comprehensive resource that combines Pennsylvania law, organized pragmatically to allow quick and efficient use, with a series of state and national best practices that will provide judges and practitioners, from the least to most experienced, with the best possible information to support children and families safely.

Read the Introductory Letter from Justice Max Baer

View The Benchbook Online

Download The Benchbook (PDF– 2.7 MB)
See: Press Release, Supreme Court Releases New Dependency Guide (07/23/10) which announced the "guide developed by Pennsylvania trial judges to aid lawyers and other judges in deciding whether, in juvenile dependency cases, a child should be removed from the home." See also:  Pennsylvania Dependency Benchbook Resource Companion.

The Benchbook was a product of those intensive investigations and self-examinations, which also resulted in creation of the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, in July, 2009, as noted in that Wikipedia article:
In the aftermath of the federal charges and defendant pleas, the Pennsylvania General Assembly moved to create a commission to investigate the entire set of circumstances surrounding the miscarriage of justice in Luzerne County. 
Sponsored by Representative Todd Eachus of Butler Township in Luzerne County, House Bill 1648 established the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice in July 2009. The commission comprises 11 members, appointed from each branch of government in Pennsylvania, with four members chosen by the judiciary, four by the legislature and three by the governor. 
In signing the legislation on August 7, 2009, Governor Ed Rendell castigated Ciavarella and Conahan, saying they "violated the rights of as many as 6000 young people by denying them basic rights to counsel and handing down outrageously excessive sentences. The lives of these young people and their families were changed forever." 

Scheduled to meet a minimum of once per month, the commission was organized to investigate the actions of and damages caused by the two judges and review the state of the Luzerne County courts left in the wake of their tenures. The commission was given power of subpoena and was required to complete its work and report its recommendations and findings to the three branches of state government by May 31, 2010.
The Commission's Final Report, along with a Summary of Recommendations, was issued in May, 2010.

Awareness can be expanded, lessons can be learned, change can occur; and that is what we can remember, and how we can find inspiration.  

It is how we react to find a "remedy" to wrongs that defines our character and that alters the future.  That re-action can become our legacy and others' hope:
Mickey [Mantle] died in Dallas on August 13, 1995.  During the first Yankee home game after his death, Eddie Layton played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the organ because Mickey had once told him it was his favorite song.

In his eulogy, sportscaster Bob Costas described Mickey Mantle  as “a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic.” 
He added: “In the last year of his life, Mickey Mantle, always so hard on himself, finally came to accept and appreciate the distinction between a role model and a hero. The first, he often was not. The second, he always will be. And, in the end, people got it.”  
-- Mickey Mantle: The Man Behind the Legend, posted by Self-Help Daily
Update: 11/15/11:

In "Joe Paterno legacy needs new final chapter" (11/14/11) posted on ESPN's Big Ten Blog, Brian Bennett argued that the "legacy of Paterno" could, and should, be altered by his future efforts against child abuse:
It's inarguable that JoePa has done a lot of good for a lot of people in his life. Now he must undertake his greatest challenge. He cannot let this be the final chapter of his story.

When Paterno emerges from his cocoon, he has only one choice for going forward. He should spend the rest of his time working for victims of child abuse. * * *

Paterno could travel around the state of Pennsylvania and across the country leading fundraisers and charity events, telling his story and letting everyone know how truly sorry he is.

He could star in public-service announcements and lead a movement to locate all the victims and give them whatever help they need. Paterno knows how to rally teams together, and he has led fundraising campaigns before. * * *

[H]e can spend the rest of his life atoning and doing whatever he can to ease the pain of those victims -- and working to make sure a similar situation never happens again. That's a much more fitting final act. * * *
Update:  07/23/12:

Coach Paterno's debilitating lung cancer leading to his death on January 22, 2012, at age 85, may have prevented him from embarking on a new crusade for awareness and remediation of child sexual abuse; but others here in Central Pennsylvania will do so as part of an educational mission.

Today, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) issued program sanctions against, and required remedial actions by, the Pennsylvania State University arising from Sandusky-related child sex abuse crimes.  See:  NCAA's statement, Penn State failures draw unprecedented NCAA sanctions (07/23/12).

The NCAA's harsh judgment of Penn State and its clear warnings to other educational institutions, stands in contrast to the accepting and remorseful message, President's statement regarding NCAA decree, posted on the Penn  State website by its current leader, Rodney Erickson.
* * * Penn State accepts the penalties and corrective actions announced today by the NCAA. With today’s announcement and the action it requires of us, the University takes a significant step forward.

The NCAA ruling holds the University accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the University community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.

The NCAA also mandates that Penn State become a national leader to help victims of child sexual assault and to promote awareness across our nation. Specifically, the University will pay $12 million a year for the next five years into a special endowment created to fund programs for the detection, prevention and treatment of child abuse. This total of $60 million can never reduce the pain suffered by victims, but will help provide them hope and healing. * * *

It is important to know we are entering a new chapter at Penn State and making necessary changes. We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial, and collaborative. * * *
The NCAA decree was entered voluntarily by Penn State before the announcement was made.  According to the NCAA's Statement:
Penn State fully cooperated with the NCAA on this examination of the issues and took decisive action in removing individuals in leadership who were culpable.

"The actions already taken by the new Penn State Board of Trustees chair Karen Peetz and Penn State President Rodney Erickson have demonstrated a strong desire and determination to take the steps necessary for Penn State to right these severe wrongs," said Emmert.

I said many months ago in my blog posting: "It is how we react to find a 'remedy' to wrongs that defines our character and that alters the future."

These rigorous pledged actions, in the process of fulfillment over not just the ensuing five years, but beyond, will emphasize values of caring over competition, will encourage us at all levels to be aware, responsive, and accountable, and thereby will protect helpless children from future abuse.

This is not punishment; it is a proper "remedy".  Such processes should occur not only at Penn State, or in Pennsylvania, but across America.