Adam Taliaferro and the ethics question

Published March 7, 2012

Today a supporter asked me to weigh in on Adam Taliferro, the former Penn State football player who was paralyzed in a horrific on-the-field incident during his freshman year in 2000. He has since made a full recovery, graduated from law school, and is now making a bid for the Board of Trustees.

A bit of controversy has found its way to Taliferro. He works for the same mega law firm that Penn State hired in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, and some say it’s unethical for him to be a trustee while his firm is on the university’s payroll.

Public ethics rules exist to prevent officials from using their positions of power for personal gain. For example, if you own a construction company, you’re not supposed to award your company  a no-bid contract to build a building for that organization.

So let’s look at Taliferro’s situation. He’s an Associate Attorney for Duane Morris LLP, a global law firm headquartered in Philadelphia, and works at the firm’s Cherry Hill, N.J. office.

I can’t see a conflict of interest by Taliaferro simply joining the board. That, by itself, wouldn’t benefit him financially. But he’d have to abstain from any discussions about whether his firm should be hired, and should publicly refuse any profit-sharing plans that Duane Morris might offer.

Thus far, he’s in the clear. But if elected, Taliaferro must be overly careful to not cross an ethical line, a position the trustees don’t often advocate.