Lawyer James M. Reeder was given six months to look into the matter and issue a report to state officials, according to a Feb. 8 order from Judge Barry Feudale, first reported Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The order relates to a grand jury that issued reports in 2011 and 2012 that led to molestation charges against Sandusky and perjury charges against former Penn State president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz. But because grand juries often work on more than one matter, it was unclear whether the possible secrecy violations were related to the Penn State cases or other cases before the panel.
Still, Feudale has been trying to sort out a legal dispute involving whether former Penn State lawyer Cynthia Baldwin represented the university or Spanier, Curley and Schultz at a grand jury proceeding in 2011 and, if she represented the three men, why she appeared as a key witness against them at a later grand jury proceeding.
Feudale's order appointing Reeder to look into grand jury secrecy refers to a criminal procedure rule that says anyone present at a grand jury session must be identified in the record and sworn to secrecy.
Lawyers for Spanier, Curley and Schultz have asked the judge to bar her from testifying at their preliminary hearing on the criminal charges, a date for which has not been set.
Schultz attorney Tom Farrell noted Wednesday that Feudale's order fell short of saying what precisely would be investigated. But he said if the judge finds that she violated grand jury rules, the criminal charges could possibly be dismissed.
"Our position is that Cynthia Baldwin was entitled to be there because she was our client's attorney," Farrell said. "However, if she were there in the grand jury room and was not there as personal counsel for a witness, then her presence violated the grand jury rules."
Lawyers for Curley and Spanier offered no immediate comment.
Baldwin is a former state Supreme Court justice and former Penn State trustee. Her lawyer, Charles De Monaco, has said she "at all times fulfilled her obligations to the university and its agents."
The three former university officials face charges of perjury, obstruction, conspiracy, endangering the welfare of children and failure to properly report suspected abuse. Former Attorney General Linda Kelly has accused them of a conspiracy to conceal reports that Sandusky was behaving inappropriately with boys. They dispute the allegations.
Sandusky, the school's former assistant football coach, was convicted last year of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and is serving a decades-long state prison sentence. He maintains his innocence and is pursuing appeals.
In his February order, Feudale instructed Reeder to look into potential violations of court rules and a criminal law restricting disclosure of grand jury testimony. He listed the state's crime against obstruction of the administration of law or other government functions, highlighting that it applied to "breach of official duty or other unlawful act."
Under the order, Reeder will be able to request immunity from state or county prosecutors' offices, can use a current grand jury to investigate, and can employ an investigator and a support staffer if needed.
Reeder "shall have day-to-day independence and will be free to structure the investigation as he wishes and to exercise independent prosecutorial discretion whether, which and when any potential witness should be brought before the grand jury and/or whether, which and when any charges should be brought, including contempt of court," the judge wrote.
Reeder will be paid $72 an hour, while his investigator or support staffer will earn $20 an hour. His report with any recommendations about possible changes to law, rules or practice will be submitted to Feudale, the state Supreme Court, Gov. Tom Corbett, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, and the grand jury. Portions may have to be blacked out, Feudale said.
Reeder is a former employee of the attorney general's office who played a role in the so-called Bonusgate case involving the illegal use of government resources for campaigns, for which state lawmakers and legislative staffers have pleaded guilty or been found guilty. A phone message left for him at the Lancaster County district attorney's office was not returned.
A spokeswoman for Kane, who took office in January, declined comment about the court order.