Roethlisberger's fate in hands of NFL, Steelers
Wearing a suit and sporting a fresh haircut, Ben Roethlisberger said he had a "very productive meeting" with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at league headquarters in New York City, a day after a Georgia district attorney said he would not file charges against the Steelers quarterback in a sexual assault case.
Mr. Roethlisberger emerged several hours later and told a group of reporters that had gathered outside the Park Avenue office Tuesday that it was a "very productive meeting."
He also told the group as he got into his car that "it's a very serious matter, one we take serious."
Following the meeting, the NFL released a statement saying they were reviewing the situation.
"Commissioner Roger Goodell met today with Ben Roethlisberger and his representatives to discuss his recent incident involving his personal conduct," the release stated. "In accordance with the league's Personal Conduct Policy, our office will review all the facts and follow up at the appropriate time with the Steelers and Ben."
The Steelers had no comment following the meeting.
Now, the wait begins to see how Mr. Goodell and/or the Steelers respond and whether either issues disciplinary measures against Mr. Roethlisberger for his indiscretions.
The Georgia incident was the second time in less than a year Mr. Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault by women. Besides the case that was dropped Monday in Georgia, a civil lawsuit was filed in July by a Nevada woman concerning an incident in July 2009 at a Lake Tahoe hotel.
Also on Tuesday, a Boston lawyer with Pittsburgh ties revealed that he was hired to investigate allegations about an encounter a 26-year-old woman had with Mr. Roethlisberger.
"Six months ago I was retained by a client of mine, a close friend, to investigate allegations against Ben Roethlisberger in a Las Vegas nightclub that were absolutely identical to this Georgia girl's story. And the outcome was the young woman did not want to proceed and we dropped it and never took any action," Harry L. Manion III said during an interview with a Boston radio talk show.
"And the situation that I was briefly involved in, it was certainly not rape, it was a public place, it was allegedly not consented to sexual touching," Mr. Manion said.
Later in the day, Mr. Manion clarified that his radio statement was not meant to indicate that the Las Vegas allegations were "identical" to those brought against Mr. Roethlisberger in Georgia in the sense that the quarterback was accused of rape. Instead, Mr. Manion said, the parallel had strictly to do with women socializing with the quarterback at a nightclub's VIP area.
A subsequent e-mail from his office's marketing director in response to a list of questions from the Post-Gazette stated: "... the only similarities between the two situations of which Mr. Manion is aware is that they both involve a young woman and a nightclub. Mr. Manion did not mean to express or imply that he has any information that Mr. Roethlisberger engaged in any illegal behavior."
That same language was posted on the website of the WEEI radio program "The Dennis & Callahan Morning Show."
"There's no allegation. We don't know what happened," Mr. Manion said in an interview with the Post-Gazette. "All I know is it involved an evening with Ben Roethlisberger, and I never got any of the details. I offered it [on the radio show] only because it was such a similar situation - a young woman at a nightclub asked, invited into a VIP area."
In the Georgia case, the accuser joined Mr. Roethlisberger and his friends in the VIP section of a nightclub in Milledgeville, where she drank shots of alcohol. The woman alleged that Mr. Roethlisberger attacked her in a bathroom.
Mr. Manion declined to disclose details about his client's encounter, such as where it took place or when. He did say, though, that "my client was a graduate of college, 26 years old, out socially with a bunch of other young women, grabbed from the line, brought up to the VIP suite."
Asked whether someone there persuaded her to pursue this or did she make the decision on her own, Mr. Manion replied: "She made the decision unilaterally, herself. She's got a business degree, she's very intelligent, very accomplished young woman. And she just said, 'I put myself in the position, and I got myself there,' and I basically laid out her rights to her."
Neither Las Vegas police nor any of the other three police departments in the immediate area around the city have any report on file involving Mr. Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh hockey fans might recognize Mr. Manion's name. He was lead counsel for former Penguins owner Roger Marino in the Penguins Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization case.
Despite these issues, Mr. Roethlisberger's larger problems still are before him.
Mr. Goodell has broad powers under the NFL's conduct policy to dispense punishment that could include a suspension and also order him to counseling. The Steelers also could take action against their quarterback.
Mr. Goodell has generally used the conduct policy to suspend players who have been charged with a crime, which Mr. Roethlisberger has not.
If Mr. Goodell were to suspend Mr. Roethlisberger, the quarterback could appeal but that appeal would be heard by the commissioner. If the Steelers were to discipline him and Mr. Roethlisberger appealed, that appeal would be heard by an independent special master via the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.
Unless the commissioner issues some sort of immediate punishment or orders counseling that would not allow him to appear, the Steelers expect their quarterback to report with his teammates for the first organized team activity (OTA) on Monday at the team's facility on Pittsburgh's South Side. It will include the team's first practice session together, without pads, since the end of the 2009 season.
In Milledgeville, Ga., a 20-year-old college student accused Mr. Roethlisberger of raping her in a nightclub bathroom last month. The district attorney there on Monday announced that he would not prosecute the case because of a lack of evidence.
Calvin R.X. Dunlap, the attorney for the 30-year-old Nevada woman who filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Roethlisberger last year alleging that he sexually assaulted her in a Lake Tahoe hotel, Tuesday said, "We will be looking into [Mr. Manion's claim], just as we are looking into the matter in Milledgeville."
The lawsuit has been on hold since the fall as defense attorneys for Mr. Roethlisberger pursue an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court for a change of venue from Reno, where the suit was filed, to Lake Tahoe, where the incident is said to have occurred.
Mr. Roethlisberger has denied that he sexually assaulted the woman in Nevada and has filed a countersuit seeking damages.
First Published April 14, 2010 12:00 am