UPMC wants to know what 'evidence' was on ex-mayor's computer

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UPMC wants to know if former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl "destroyed any evidence" when he took his workplace computer home with him upon leaving office, saying whatever data might be missing could be key to the health system's case against the city.

But an attorney for the mayor and the city says UPMC has nothing to worry about.

"All I can tell you is that this is an overreaction," said Ronald D. Barber of Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky, the firm that is representing the mayor and the city in the UPMC civil matter.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last week that Mr. Ravenstahl took his work computer home with him for several days, then returned it to the city after city officials reported it was missing in January. The city then turned the computer over to the FBI, because of the bureau's continuing probe into city business and politics.

Monday's court filing from UPMC is part of the health system's lawsuit against the city and Mr. Ravenstahl, filed last April in federal court. The suit claimed the mayor's office and the city violated the health giant's civil rights.

UPMC's suit came in response to the city's own March 2013 lawsuit against UPMC, a legal complaint that questioned the health system's nonprofit status, which gives UPMC significant property tax exemptions.

As part of its own case, UPMC asked for "limited discovery" of Mr. Ravenstahl's data and documents before he left office, a request that was denied by the case's presiding judge, U.S. District Court Judge Joy Flowers Conti.

The court did, however, enter a "preservation order" that "obligated the parties to use their best efforts and take all appropriate steps to preserve evidence that might be relevant to this case."

In Monday's court filing, UPMC attorneys said the health system is concerned that the November preservation order, signed the following month by the mayor, may have been violated when Mr. Ravenstahl took the computer home with him.

Mr. Ravenstahl's personal attorney, Charles Porter, said the former mayor took the computer because he was concerned the Peduto administration would mishandle it.

"He didn't trust the administration, so he thought it prudent" to take the computer with him, Mr. Porter said to the Post-Gazette last week.

UPMC attorneys sent a letter to Mr. Ravenstahl's civil counsel last week, outlining its concerns, according to today's legal filing.

Though attorneys from Strassburger McKenna responded by saying that "the FBI will be able to confirm that nothing has been deleted" from the ex-mayor's computer, UPMC is asking the court to lift the discovery stay.

"UPMC proposes that the Court designate a Court-appointed, independent computer forensic analyst to examine if anything was deleted from Mr. Ravenstahl's computer during the pendency of this lawsuit and whether such data discoverable in this Action can be restored," the filing says.

In an email, UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said "UPMC had no choice but to take [Monday's] action in order to protect our interests and preserve our rights. ... UPMC has a right to know if Mayor Ravenstahl deleted anything from his computer that was related to the lawsuit he initiated."

Mr. Peduto's office had no comment on the UPMC filing.

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625. First Published March 24, 2014 4:00 PM

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