Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Q&A with the Ravenstahls' Attorney

he following Q&A is a transcript of my telephone interview with Luke and Erin Ravenstahl's attorney, Richard Sprague of Philadelphia.

Bob Mayo Q: My request to your earlier was that the mayor sit down and speak with us on camera as he has done in one other case, to talk about these developments. Will he do that?

Richard Sprague A: The answer is I have advised him not to and his wife as well. On the basis that I was retained, really, after they announced that they have separated to then then give them privacy, leave them alone. They've announced they've separated, they're going to work on their own problems but that's a personal matter. It's got nothing to do with the mayor's public activities as the mayor of the City of Pittsburgh, and his wife's private -- as a private citizen, what she does. And for him to appear on other channels, on the radio interviews, is really not keeping private about which I have asked the media to honor. And so I have advised them not to give any further statements or interviews.

Mayo Q: If that was the intention, why was that one venue chosen -- before we move on, just to clarify that?

Sprague A: I met with the mayor. As far I know they were readily available, and I agreed that we would give one statement and he would give a public release today. And since all he's going to be saying in any interview is 'that my wife and I have separated'. The only other thing that I made clear is that he is living in the City of Pittsburgh, so he's meeting the residency requirement. That's the only thing that would be said. How many times does he just say that over and over? I understand every TV channel and radio feeling 'well, why weren't we selected?'. But, you know, tough.

Mayo Q: Moving on. In what capacity has the couple retained you? Are you handling legal separation, a legal divorce?

Sprague A: Fair question. I am not their lawyer on the domestic situation between them. I am strictly their lawyer to try to preserve their right of privacy. I recognize the mayor as a public official won't have quite the privacy that his wife would have since she's a private citizen. But I am trying to get for both of them the recognition, just like any other couple, just like if you were getting a divorce, or getting -- I shouldn't even use that word, because that's not in the offing. It's a separation. If you were separated, you'd want to have privacy, work it out with your wife. You have a one year old child. Those are private concerns, it's got nothing to do with administering the city. So my role is to try to get them their privacy. And secondly, to prevent there being a whole bunch of smears, innuendoes, defamatory things being suggested. Because if that is so, I will bring appropriate legal action. But it's limited to that. I am not their domestic relations lawyer.

Mayo Q: To clarify, under Pennsylvania law. Is there legal separation under Pennsylvania law and in what sense is that term being used here?

Sprague A: Well, the separation is something that the parties have mutually agreed to and worked out between themselves. And that is fine wherever you are... it's just whatever is agreed to. Sometimes it's not agreed to between the parties, one just separates from the other. And other times the parties can mutually agree , and here it was mutually agreed.

Mayo Q: But there's no document filed with the court now or at any other point regarding separation?

Sprague A: Not in this matter.

Mayo Q: And you have referenced earlier about whether there's any prospect of divorce documents being filed. That-- ?

Sprague A: Divorce is not in the offing. The only thing that's in the picture now is they have separated. They are interested in their child, they are interested in working things out between them, and what happens in the future we'll have to see.

Mayo Q: You had referenced earlier in this interview and in our phone conversation when we spoke earlier in the day, concerning your role in protecting them from defamation, from smears, from invasion of privacy. Has there been anything in your view that has approached that? What is the basis for that concern?

Sprague A: No, there's nothing. As a matter of fact, I must say this, because there's been calls from great numbers of the media in Pittsburgh. And you know I'm not out there, I don't know how they're carrying it. But in the interviews by the reporters, including yourself, I think there's been a full appreciation of a couple wanting privacy, and their personal domestic situation. It's got nothing to do with his running of the city.

Mayo Q: Now, in the one on camera interview that the mayor did, he was asked about and answered questions about talk about (topic redacted). That was brought up in that interview --

Sprague A: I've got to interrupt you on that. See, I think that is outrageous to even raise that kind of a -- and I call that a smear. And if you're broadcasting that, and making that statement, then say so and I'll action against you. You understand that the mayor did not respond to that question raising that, saying things will work out. And that, you know, reporters can something -- I can say on this broadcast right now something terrible, saying, well, there's a report about this or that. And that would be terrible for me to do. You deal with a situation that they are separated and leave it like that. If the mayor answered the question you're talking about then he did not follow my advice, which is he is not to dignify anything like that and he's not to talk further. He's told the citizenry that they're separated and has asked for privacy, which I think is appropriate and i think the media ought to respect.

Mayo Q: Is the reporter who broached that subject liable for potential legal action by the mayor?

Sprague A: I'll have to look and see what he said. (pause) And how he said it.

Mayo Q: The announcement by the couple came a few weeks after the general election. Can you address whether or not there was a choice made not to bring this information into the public spotlight until the election was resolved? Was a decision made earlier that they'd be moving forward with this but to defer until after the election?

Sprague A: I understand that question, but that would involve a conversation between me and my client. As I'm sure you're aware, attorney client conversations are privileged and are not discussed.

Mayo Q: So you're not authorized to address that either way on behalf of your client?

Sprague A: That's correct.

Mayo Q: Do you have anything else regarding any aspect the mayor's official role? Or his use of any resources, whatever, in his role in the office of the mayor that in any way relates to this? Or is there no connection or relationship in any way between his official, public, elected role and this sad turn in his private life?

Sprague A: There is absolutely no connection. There, you know , let's face it. People get married, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. That's a private matter between a couple. In this case, obviously they have decided to separate. They are going to work on their problems. And that has nothing to do with his role as Mayor of Pittsburgh and the request of the couple for -- on that issue, on that issue alone -- privacy. If you like or don't like what he's doing as mayor, take him up on those activities, but leave this couple alone in terms of their personal marriage.

Mayo Q: Is there anything else that you want to add or to emphasize in your role speaking for the mayor, dealing with the media for the mayor in this case that we've not covered?

Sprague A: No, I think that you've asked good questions, you've covered it. I do resent the question that picks up what I consider, you know -- I hear rumors, innuendoes. I don't think that's appropriate. But other than that, I think it's fine. And I think, as I've said, this has got nothing to do with his business as the Mayor of Pittsburgh. People ought to understand, and I think the public does understand the request for on this issue to the media -- 'leave us alone on this issue' -- is very understandable. And I think the public would stand behind the mayor and his wife 100 percent. And I really think except for the media feeling 'well we've got to get something that another media doesn't have' -- your question about why was it broadcast on one station and not on others. You know, that's just the media wanting to be at the center of some matter. The media ought to have the decency just to leave them alone on this issue.

Mayo Q: And again, the reason why I asked the question was that it was within the scope of the one interview that he chose to grant... I wanted to see if that suggested if it was something that you wanted to address. But you're saying even the broaching of that question by his chosen interviewer, you feel was inappropriate?

Sprague A: If he raised that, I think it's absolutely inappropriate. I think on a public broadcast there are some standards that the media should stand to. And that is you don't publicly give 'I hear', or 'there's rumors', or 'there's innuendoes'. I don't think that's proper newsmaking.



Bram Reichbaum said...

At times Mr. Sprague seems too highly concerned with topics and judgments that have nothing whatsoever to do with legalities.

Let me make one statement contrary to a couple of comments I wrote on my own blog today: I don't blame the Ravenstahls one bit for breaking the bank, if that's what it took, to secure the best attorney for this work that money can buy. It would be unacceptable for Erin to be followed somewhere with a camera, for example. Or for somebody to make a false claim in search of a quick settlement. Everyone should be made aware of the consequences of doing such things. And as to the seamy allegations which will probably be made, truly or falsely -- it makes sense for the family to do what it can to discourage anything even of that nature. So I take a lot of my previous comments about "the attorney issue" back.

Even still the scope of what seems to trouble him, and over what he says he is prepared to take action, is too broad for my taste and in my opinion does verge upon the political. For many voters, this sort of familial matter as well as anything one might reasonably infer from what little we know about this case *matter*, matter absolutely. Who's to say they're wrong? You can scold them, or tell them to worry instead about pensions and the such -- but to threaten legal action for questioning, speculating and opining on what this says about *the Mayor himself* is a bit much. They may not have a right to "know", but they have a right to be curious and to speak and write in a way consistent with their thoughtful interest. Likewise, it is fair to ruminate on commonalities which may exist between a Mayor's governing habits and his or her personal habits. It can even be a very good idea, done appropriately and with much sensitivity. These are delicate subjects and I don't want to be insensitive -- and as I say, I don't blame the Ravenstahls one iota for applying the pressure, and rather admire the dignity with which they made this announcement -- but it seems to me the public has a right to think, to communicate, and to learn from commonly beheld experiences. And so a healthy fraction of what Mr. Sprague said during that interview I take as a bluff.

EdHeath said...

So apparently there is a long version of the interview with Griffin (sp?), and in one part Ravenstahl states explicitly that although there have been problems for a year, he and his wife decided to wait until after the election to announce the separation. He said the decision was a political one. So basically Ravenstahl admitted (rather foolishly) that he feels he should be able to enjoy the political benefit of timing this announcement to cause him the least amount of political damage, yet his lawyer says any speculation about *why* he and his wife are separating is off limits.

If she ever comes forward …

Maria said...

Wow! You felt you had to redact a reference to something that has already been broadcast on air? Amazing.