Biden Judicial Nom Let Penn State President Who Ignored Sandusky Rape Accusations Walk Free

An appeals court reversed Karoline Mehalchick's decision and criticized her legal argument

Karoline Mehalchick (Twitter).
September 14, 2023

The judge who vacated the conviction of the disgraced former president of Penn State University after he was found guilty of covering up Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of minors could soon get a promotion.

Senate Democrats are primed to confirm Karoline Mehalchick to the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Thursday. Mehalchick, who serves as a magistrate judge in the state, has a history of contentious rulings: She has had at least 31 decisions reversed in less than a decade on the bench.

But no ruling was more controversial than her 2019 decision to let then-Penn State president Graham Spanier off on a technicality after a jury found him guilty of child endangerment in 2017. Mehalchick ruled that prosecutors had misapplied the child endangerment statute to Spanier, who in 2001 did not notify police that Sandusky, then-Penn State’s assistant football coach, raped a child on campus.

Mehalchick’s ruling let Spanier walk free for over a year, until an appeals court reinstated his original sentence. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and sentenced to up to 60 years in prison.

Mehalchick, who has the vocal support of Pennsylvania’s Democratic senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman, is the latest in the string of President Joe Biden’s controversial judicial picks. The White House was forced to withdraw the nomination of Michael Delaney for a New Hampshire judicial slot after Democratic concerns over his previous work defending an elite boarding school after it was sued by an underage sexual assault victim.

Neither Casey nor the White House responded to a request for comment. A spokesman for Fetterman affirmed the Senator’s support for Mehalchick.

An appeals court unanimously reinstated Spanier’s two-month sentence in December 2020, but not before the panel of three judges chastised Mehalchick for her decision. Mehalchick, according to their opinion, did not "examine … [the law] closely." The judges also implied she willfully left out other case law that would have voided her argument for letting Spanier off.

Then-attorney general Josh Shapiro (D.), who is now Pennsylvania’s governor, applauded the appellate court’s decision. "No one is above the law, especially when it comes to the welfare of children," he said.

"Spanier turned a blind eye to child abuse by not reporting his knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s assaults to law enforcement," Shapiro continued in a statement. "Let it be known—if you hurt kids or cover up child abuse—my office will act and you will be held accountable."

Michael Gillum, the psychiatrist for one of Sandusky’s victims, told the Washington Free Beacon that his client "would have never been raped" had Spanier informed authorities of Sandusky’s crimes in 2001.

"All the Penn State conspirators actively covered up and failed to report horrific child abuse," Gillum said. "They are indirectly responsible for hundreds of counts of the rape of children that occurred after they had the knowledge of what Sandusky was doing.

Republicans hammered Mehalchick for her handling of the Spanier case during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said Mehalchick’s nomination was part of a "repeated pattern of showing excessive leniency to criminals." Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) said Mehalchick’s ruling "comes across as a lack of respect for children and the rule of law."