Penn State did not prove its legal standing to have public court filing sealed, experts say

By Min Xian of Spotlight PA State College

This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PAan independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania. Sign up for our regional newsletter, Talk of the Town.

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State did not prove it had legal standing to request the sealing of a case related to alleged sexual extortion of two of the university’s student athletes, legal experts told Spotlight PA. The school’s move was a very unusual action that limited public access to judicial documents.

Spotlight PA was a part of an effort to make public details of the case, which had been sealed by a Center County Court of Common Pleas judge in June. Case files were unsealed on July 15 with identifiable information about the victims redacted.

A state criminal investigation began in the fall of 2021 when two Penn State student athletes reported to Penn State University Police that they were extorted online by an unknown person identified as “Li.” Li convinced at least one of the athletes to share sexually explicit photos and videos and later threatened the victim with those materials, according to the unsealed court documents.

In June, the Center County District Attorney’s Office closed that investigation after the victims decided against pursuing legal action. Upon learning that case files would become public, Penn State filed an emergency ex parte preliminary injunction to have the entire case sealed.

“It is believed … that the privacy interests of these crime victims will be irreparably and irreversibly damaged if the unsealing of these records occurs,” the university wrote in a petition filed on June 23. Center County President Judge Pamela Ruest granted the request.

The next day, the university asked that its emergency request also

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