Attorneys for Tribune-Review publisher Richard M. Scaife have filed court papers demanding the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette return documents related to the divorce of Mr. Scaife and his wife, Margaret Ritchie Battle Scaife.
In response, the Post-Gazette, arguing that no court has the right to force a newspaper to surrender documents lawfully in its possession, has posted those documents on its Web site, with some personal, financial and third-party information removed.
Richard M. Scaife
v. Margaret Ritchie Battle Scaife
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- Affidavit regarding complex support
- Answer to petition for enforcement
- Trial brief requesting reduction in support
- Defendant's counter-affidavit to divorce filing
- Mrs. Scaife's pretrial statement
- Mr. Scaife's pretrial statement
- Opposing discovery request
- Petition for enforcement of court order
- Request for entry and inspection
- Request for reduction in alimony
- Second amended complaint
- Status quo order
- Answer to complaint
- Second answer to complaint
"Mr. Scaife has asked the court to do something unprecedented: stop a newspaper from writing about documents that were publicly available and highly newsworthy," said David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Post-Gazette.
"That effort is newsworthy in and of itself. As we will advise the court, such a prior restraint would be a clear violation of the First Amendment and of press prerogatives and freedoms that all newspapers cherish. In the meantime, we have posted the most significant of those documents on our Web site and will continue to evaluate whether additional postings should be made."
Mr. Scaife's attempt to make court documents inaccessible is unusual for the head of a news organization. Historically, newspapers and television stations have fought for greater rather than more restricted access. In fact, Mr. Scaife's Tribune-Review joined other organizations in seeking to unseal the estate records of the late Sen. John Heinz during the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry, who is married to Sen. Heinz's widow, Teresa.
The court papers filed by Mr. Scaife's attorneys Friday ask the court to order PG Publishing Company and Post-Gazette Staff Writer Dennis B. Roddy to return the documents, which were the basis of Mr. Roddy's story in last Sunday's Post-Gazette that reported details of Mr. Scaife's pending divorce.
Mr. Scaife's attorneys say the Post-Gazette article describes "at length various highly confidential and personal matters contained in the record, none of which have any news value nor are legitimate subjects of public scrutiny."
But the Post-Gazette countered that the story is newsworthy, given the Scaifes' high profile in the community and the large amounts of money involved, particularly the enormous monthly support payments. The newspaper argues that Mr. and Mrs. Scaife have already put their divorce in the public domain with arrests for trespassing and assault, accusations of dognapping, and derogatory yard signs.
Mr. Scaife's attorneys contend that further dissemination of the information "would not merely serve to embarrass the parties, but could endanger their security." The filing does not specify how the Scaifes would be endangered.
Mr. Roddy's story was based on court documents retrieved from the publicly accessible Allegheny County prothonotary's Web site.
Mr. Scaife's filing "appears to strike at the heart of the First Amendment by attempting to impose a prior restraint on the Post-Gazette's ability to use documents that came into the public domain," said Post-Gazette attorney W. Thomas McGough Jr.
The Scaifes filed for divorce Feb. 8. The court ordered the documents sealed in March, but, according to Prothonotary Michael Lamb, the seal was broken Aug. 28 when an employee in his office may have neglected to make the necessary computer step when scanning in a new filing in the case. The window remained open for several days after that, he said.
Mr. Roddy's story reported that a central issue in the divorce is Mr. Scaife's income, which would serve as the basis for determining the size of the support payments to Mrs. Scaife.
Mrs. Scaife, 60, contends that the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, one of a half-dozen local Tribune-Review Publishing newspapers owned by Mr. Scaife, 75, should be considered a hobby or personal cause rather than a business investment because the paper has lost $20 million to $30 million annually since it began publishing in 1992.
The IRS defines a hobby or not-for-profit activity as an activity not pursued for profit. "An activity is usually considered a business if it makes a profit during at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year," according to the IRS.
Mr. Scaife's lawyers say those losses should be counted against Mr. Scaife's aggregate monthly income in determining support payments. That would put his 2005 yearly income at $17 million.
Mrs. Scaife's attorneys say that, discounting the Pittsburgh paper's losses, his real income in 2005 was $45 million.
If he treated the Tribune-Review like his other investments, "the Tribune-Review would have been gone long ago," Mrs. Scaife's lawyers stated in the documents.
"In fact, if his real investments performed like the Tribune-Review, [Mr. Scaife] would be penniless instead of a billionaire, and attempting to collect support from his wife," her attorneys said.
The divorce documents show that Mr. Scaife has subsidized the Pittsburgh paper -- one of the few Tribune-Review Publishing properties not showing a profit -- for more than $140 million. Attorneys for Mrs. Scaife say the figure is actually $244 million.
A court hearing officer has ordered Mr. Scaife to pay his estranged wife $725,000 per month in preliminary temporary support and Mr. Scaife's lawyers have sought to have the payments reduced.
Court documents list Mr. Scaife's monthly income from nine trusts at $3.9 million.