Judge John Cleland thinks Jerry Sandusky’s attorneys have stretched some findings in a filing with the Centre County court.
The lawyers filed a response, calling the McKean County senior judge’s account “baseless.”
Cleland, who heard the Sandusky criminal trial and presided over the appeals phase until November 2016, recused himself at that point after attorneys Al Lindsay and Andrew Salemme pointed to the possibility of the judge potentially being a material witness to the claims of ineffective counsel from Sandusky’s trial attorneys, Joseph Amendola and Karl Rominger.
At issue was a meeting in the early days of the case between Amendola, prosecutors, the district magistrate and Cleland at the Hilton Garden Inn in State College to discuss waiving the preliminary hearing set for the next day.
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After issues rose with that meeting being cited in documents, Cleland recused himself, but made it clear that he was not happy.
“The defendant’s attorneys have impugned the competence and integrity of essentially everyone associated with the grand jury’s investigation into the defendant’s conduct, the defendant’s trial and conviction, and these post-conviction proceedings. Now they have chosen to impugn the integrity of the court itself,” Cleland wrote at the time.
In the letter that Cleland sent to Jefferson County President Judge John Foradora, who now presides over the case, he pointed to 14 pages of the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law filed in Sandusky’s Post-conviction Collateral Relief Act petition for a new trial or dismissal of charges, saying “defendant’s counsel have made inaccurate or misleading” statements — directing Foradora’s attention to that Nov. 18 opinion.
Lindsay and Salemme countered, saying everything they noted was backed up with citations from the court record.
“However, Judge Cleland did not cite a single numbered paragraph that was allegedly inaccurate or misleading in accusing counsel,” they wrote, adding that what he did not was not supported by the evidence of record.
They further took issue with another statement Cleland made in his letter, which he said was done in accordance with judicial conduct rules and “advice of the judicial Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges.”
Lindsay and Salemme point to the rules he cited, which govern how a judge can or can’t talk about a case.
“Regrettably, Judge Cleland has chosen to make baseless accusations against counsel by alleging, without any substantiation, that counsel have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct in order to get around the proscriptions of (the judicial conduct rules) which prohibits a judge from making comments concerning a case that might substantially interfere with the fairness of that proceeding,” they wrote.
They asked Foradora to ignore the letter and part of the recusal opinion.
Sandusky maintains his innocence. He is serving a 30-to-60-year sentence at Somerset state prison for 45 counts of child sex abuse crimes after his 2012 conviction.