Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Secret PR for Legal Proceedings? A Comment

Last week, the California stem cell agency was lambasted for "laundering" public relations activities through its outside attorneys.

We called the item to the attention of Jeff Raimundo, a partner in Townsend Raimundo Besler & Usher of Sacramento. Raimundo is a former political reporter and longtime PR practitioner whose operations have spanned California.

Here is his comment:
"This one is not an easy question, in my view. At some point you have to take them at their word, because it does make a difference in how I would see this. Ordinarily, I would agree that PR contracts, products, etc. should be part of the public record and available for scrutiny. Even in those situations, I believe, 'drafts' of documents are exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act, so they probably don't need to worry about some 24-year-old junior account executive's ruminations being mistaken for some sort of sage advice or policy recommendation (which is exactly what happens too often with premature disclosure).

"In the case of PR around legitimate, legal proceedings, however, I think it should be kept secret. When we've done this in the past, the lawyers really have been our clients. They want to be able to deal with the trial lawyers' very well-honed and experienced PR apparatus in the case of liability lawsuits and with the prosecutors' (especially federal) equally professional PR operations in the case of criminal actions. Again, I would limit that PR counsel to legal issues only and not include peripheral issues like CIRM board actions or such PR activities as the announcement of new research grants."
Last week, we also reported about an indication that the governor's office may have been involved in the matter. Ellen Rose, a spokeswoman for CIRM, said, however,
"The governor's office was not involved in formulating strategy or in hiring Rubenstein."
The governor's office has not responded to our query.

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