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Do the Scales of Justice Tip the Same for Celebrity Divorces?

Aired May 22, 2001 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: The private divorce of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani plays out in the public eye. A ruling by a New York supreme court judge has added fuel to a media firestorm of a messy divorce.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK CITY: I feel very bad about it because -- because my relationship with Judith Nathan is an adult one. It's a mature one. It's one that's gone on for two years and I hope is going to go on forever. And I just went through a very difficult year, probably the most difficult year of my life, and you don't get through cancer all by yourself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Do the scales of justice tip the same way in the private break-ups of high-profile people?

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

The latest episode in the year-long split between New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his wife, Donna Hanover, involves a restraining order. So yesterday, the restraining order requested by Hanover was issued by a New York supreme court judge. Now, it's ordered that Giuliani's girlfriend, Judith Nathan, was barred -- or is barred from the mayor's home, Gracie mansion. Now, Hanover's attorney says, well, it's for the children's well-being that Nathan is no longer allowed in the house. The publicly funded 200-year-old mansion is home to the mayor, along with his wife and their two kids. Giuliani says his relationship with Nathan is an adult and mature one and that he hopes will continue forever.

So joining us today to understand what all that means, from our New York bureau, divorce attorney Pam Sloan, chairman of he divorce division of the New York Bar Association. In Los Angeles, Neal Hersh, a Beverly Hills divorce attorney who has represented celebrities. And here in Washington, Brian Jones (ph), divorce attorney Sanford Ain and Alison Ritz (ph). And in the back, Denise McInerny (ph) and Jacob Freedman (ph). And also in New York, Maggie Haberman, a reporter with the "New York Post." Well, Maggie, this has been a great story for the "New York Post" that you have covered. Where are we in this never-ending saga of the Giulianis and Hanovers and the Nathan?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, "NEW YORK POST": Well, today -- as you know, yesterday the judge barred Judith Nathan from coming into the mansion. There was some new event last night, where the mayor's mother fell ill, was taken to a hospital. Donna Hanover apparently found out about it, showed up, and they argued about whether she should be there.

Now the judge has given them 30 days to decide a plan by which these children can meet Judith Nathan. If they can't, a judge will appoint a law guardian and a mental health expert to evaluate the family. I'm not sure that either side really wants that.

COSSACK: That either wants a mental health person to examine the family. I wonder why? Maggie, let me...

(LAUGHTER)

COSSACK: Let me just back you up for a second, if I can, and kind of ask you -- how did we get to this point? I mean, the mayor, when he ran for office, was married to Donna Hanover, two children. And now there's been the turmoils that we know about, and we've gotten to this point now where restraining orders are being asked. Apparently, Judith Nathan wants to either be in the Gracie mansion or hang out in the Gracie mansion. How did we get, exactly, from point A to point B, where we are today?

HABERMAN: Well, the mayor apparently started seeing Judith Nathan two years ago. It was a relationship that was kept under wraps for a year. Almost exactly a year to the date around this time last year, actually, the media, the "New York Post,' learned about it, and we published a picture of them together. He acknowledged she was his "very good friend." And events sort of escalated from there. He dropped out of the Senate race, and in October, he filed quietly for divorce under "Anonymous v. Anonymous."

They had one settlement conference that the media found out about two months later. And there's been very little activity in the case until this sudden flurry in the past few months. In the meantime, Donna Hanover has made very few public appearances. She has not appeared by the mayor's side in literally years. And Judith Nathan has been with the mayor frequently.

So you know, the media in New York has come to sort of see Judith Nathan as a part of the mayor's life. I mean, certainly, we report on when she's with him. But there had been much speculation about whether she had actually met the children and what was going on behind closed doors. The mayor's people say in court papers that they have not met, and that's what he would like.

But you know, the acrimony in the past couple of weeks really started when the two sides had a settlement conference. A few days before that, or a day before that, Donna Hanover's side had filed the papers asking for the temporary restraining order to bar Judith Nathan from the mansion.

During that settlement conference, Raoul Felder, the mayor's divorce lawyer, asked the judge to impose a gag order. Mr. Felder then told the press that was because he had seen Donna Hanover in court that day and was afraid she was going to talk to the media. Apparently, Donna Hanover's side had agreed, in theory, to the gag order, but not on the terms. And then I think when they saw the comments from Mr. Felder in the next day or two, they decided that they didn't want the gag order.

COSSACK: OK, let me...

HABERMAN: And there we are.

COSSACK: Let me ask you this. What -- what exactly did this restraining order ask to be restrained, that -- that Nathan can't come into the house at all, that she can't cohabitate in this house? I mean, what exactly can't she do and can she do?

HABERMAN: It bars her from coming into the mansion for public events or anything. I mean, they -- the mayor's side says she's never been to the private residence. But it bars her from coming into the mansion. It also bars her from attending any events anywhere with the children, I believe. And that really is what Donna Hanover has said her aim is, is she wants to keep Judith Nathan away from her children, and that Donna Hanover thinks that her kids are not ready to meet Judith Nathan.

COSSACK: And what...

HABERMAN: The mayor says he'd like them to be a part of her life.

COSSACK: What -- what legal right does Donna Hanover have, outside of the fact that she is still married to the -- to the mayor, to remain inside the -- Gracie mansion, which the unusual part of that is, is that belongs to neither one of them but belongs to the people of New York, right?

HABERMAN: That's absolutely right. It's a public place. It's been the mayor's residence since 1942. I think Fiorello LaGuardia, Mayor Giuliani's hero, was the first person to live there. I think only in the sense that they are still married, and they both agreed. And the judge noted this in her decision. They opted to reside in the same household until the end of his term as a transition for their children. So under that -- that is, I believe, the only legal principle allowing her to stay there. But you know, the mayor apparently has not asked her to leave, according to Donna Hanover's lawyers.

COSSACK: So the way it stands now, to identify all the players at this late moment of our first section, is that...

HABERMAN: And there are many.

COSSACK: And there are many, which is -- so Nathan -- Judi Nathan has been barred from Gracie mansion. The mayor is still in the mansion.

HABERMAN: That's right.

COSSACK: The wife -- they're filed for divorce.

HABERMAN: That's right.

COSSACK: But they're still together inside the public house.

HABERMAN: On their -- on their decision, yes.

COSSACK: On their...

HABERMAN: They apparently agreed to stay in the house together.

COSSACK: All right. We're going to take a break. Now, this doesn't mean you can't tell the players without a program because we're going to tell you more about this when we come back. We're going to find out if being in the public eye means that your private life is fair game. And how did we get to this point?

Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE NEW YORKER: Oh, I think it's a private matter. I really think Donna should move out and they should move on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE NEW YORKER: It's, like, a good story. And some people care more than other people care. Some people actually have, like, a passionate opinion towards the whole thing, and some people don't. But I think it's, like, typical New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE NEW YORKER: You know, all these public divorces shouldn't be played out in public, especially when there are children involved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE NEW YORKER: I don't like anything that's private made public at all. I usually pay no attention. I -- it's sort in my face, so I have to look at it, but I don't like the idea. It's personal, private business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

The judge presiding over the Gold Club trial ordered Monday that sketches of government witnesses in the FBI's witness protection program not be published by the media. Judge Willis Hunt cited prosecution concerns when he issued the order.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - May 18, 2000) DONNA HANOVER: For several years, it was difficult to participate in Rudy's public life because of his relationship with one staff member. Beginning last May, I made a major effort to bring us back together, and Rudy and I reestablished some of our personal intimacy through the fall. At that point, he chose another path.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: Rudy Giuliani and Donna Hanover met on a blind date in 1982. They fell in love and were married two years later. But today their marriage is on the rocks as a high-profile divorce is waged in the public eye.

Neal, a lot of people would say that Mr. Felder in this case was the one that jacked this case up and made it such a public spectacle by saying things about Hanover and, you know, uncomplimentary kinds of statements about her, the kinds of things, of course, that we know that the media feed on.

NEAL HERSH, DIVORCE ATTORNEY: Well, certainly, his comments were -- were direct, and a lot of people thought they were harsh. But I want to remind everyone that it was Mr. Felder and the mayor who asked for a gag order in this case, and it's been the mayor's wife who's been fighting it. And it seems to me that if this case is ever going to get on track in a positive way for the children, it isn't the restraining order that is important here, but it's the gag order that is essential because that's what's feeding this. And I think that if we're going to protect the rights of these kids, the gag order should be in place and the case should proceed. As simple as that.

COSSACK: Neal, isn't it -- isn't it somewhat disingenuous, perhaps not on your part, but perhaps on Mr. Felder's part, who's been a guest on this show several times, to take a position that says, "We want a gag order," and when he's denied that gag order, then to come out and make vitriolic and really harmful statements, which just sort of jacks up the tensions in this case?

HERSH: You know, that's what it appears that, you know, it was some -- it's not disingenuous. It appears that -- you know, that the person who asked for the gag order just went ahead and started speaking publicly. The court's ruling, as I understand it, said that these people should act privately to restrain themselves from the manner of speech that they were releasing to the media.

It seems to me, again, that because of the emotions being so very high by both sides and because of the acrimony which is inherent in the initial request for the restraining order and because of the judge's ruling, which basically says, "I'm not going to impose a gag order" but asked these people for private restraint, that the gag order is essential, notwithstanding the comments that either party has made up until this point.

These comments really need to stop on all sides, and the gag order should be in place, period. This is a -- and certainly, in California, when the issue of children are involved, you know, those are the very cases that we try to have gag orders, sealed files and protect the children. You know, I want to point out these are not young children. They're 15 and 11. They see the news. They're probably watching this show right now. And for anyone to assume that they don't know what's going on is really, really misadvised, in my opinion.

And it just underscores the need for sealing the file, putting a gag order in place and getting all media attention about the mayor, Ms. Hanover, Ms. Nathan out of the public eye and away from the children.

COSSACK: Pam, New York, New York. I mean, this is the kind of place where -- and the mayor of New York. I mean, this is big news, big news story. "New York Post" is going to be all over this story. What should happen in terms of these people? How -- how should they conduct themselves?

PAMELA SLOAN, DIVORCE ATTORNEY: Roger, fundamentally, this is -- these are not legal issues. These are issues of good parenting and human decency, I think. With all due respect to Neal, I don't think a gag order should be mandatory in this case.

Good parents, whether they're celebrities or not, know how to keep private matters private to avoid embarrassment to their children. And you don't have to be a celebrity to understand that. We all live -- even -- even if we live in a small, little world, in our own little universe, when we're getting divorced, we want to make sure that these -- this kind of information about our private lives isn't known by our neighbors, by our community.

In a way, the Giuliani-Hanover situation is no different --

(AUDIO GAP)

SLOAN: ... parents need to have judges tell them this information and force them to do what's right for their children.

COSSACK: Sandy, what kind of a legal effect does this kind of -- of public airing of dirty laundry have on the ability to settle what is just a lawsuit, by and large? After all, it's two people who no longer wish to live under the contract of marriage and wish to dissolve that contract. That's what a divorce is. But now you have all of these high-profile extraneous pressures. Do people now begin to act differently, just in a sense, because that's -- they're expected to act differently?

SANFORD AIN, DIVORCE ATTORNEY: I think without question. That's a good observation, that this case is really a very simple case. You have a husband, a wife, two children and probably a fairly limited amount of property to divide up. And by introducing these elements of criticism and inflammatory remarks, all you do is polarize the people, hurt the children, and don't do anything to further the settlement of the case, which really is in the children's interests. I think everyone has observed that.

COSSACK: So what do you tell your client? I mean, what do you -- what would you tell Rudy Giuliani? AIN: To chill, not to bring Ms. Nathan to the residence, not to inflame his wife, not to put himself in the position of potentially harming his children, not to put himself in the position of getting an injunction issued against him and his girlfriend from appearing in the residence, to do this in a low-key, quiet kind of way until it's resolved. And then he can go on and start his new life with Ms. -- with Ms. Nathan and probably do it more quickly than he can under these circus scenario.

COSSACK: All right, Pam, so what do you tell Donna Hanover?

SLOAN: To stay the course.

COSSACK: And what does that mean?

SLOAN: I think that -- I don't know anything about the particulars of this case. I know only what I see on TV and read in the newspapers.

COSSACK: But I mean, you're a well-known divorce lawyer in New York, and these are -- you know, these aren't strange cases to you.

SLOAN: I'd tell Ms. Hanover that neither she nor her attorney should speak to the press, that her primary obligation is to her children, and divorces should not be litigated in the media, for a host of reasons, primarily the well-being of your children, your own well-being, and -- and also for the same reasons that Sandy said. You can't end your case when you're -- when you're battling in -- in the media, and that's why I think that Ms. Hanover and her team are doing a terrific job of keeping this quiet.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Who speaks for these children when their parents split? Let's find out how that -- how the courts affect those kinds of things when we come back.

(BEGIN Q&A)

NARRATOR: How did a Connecticut judge rule on a request by Court TV to use cameras in the trial of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, who is accused of killing Martha Moxley in 1975?

Answer coming up.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN Q&A)

NARRATOR: How did a Connecticut judge rule on a request by Court TV to use cameras in the trial of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, who is accused of killing Martha Moxley in 1975?

The judge denied the request. State court rules allow cameras in the courtroom with the consent of the trial judge.

(END Q&A)

COSSACK: New York State Supreme Court Judge Judith Giche has given Mayor Giuliani and Donna Hanover 30 days to reach a mutual agreement regarding their children. Now, if they cannot come to an understanding, the judge says she will appoint a guardian to represent Andrew and Caroline, the couple's children.

Sandy, what does that mean?

AIN: It means that the judge is very bright. What the judge has said to this people is, "You've got 30 days to work your differences out with respect to these children, or I'm going to take it away from you. I'm going to appoint a mental health professional to do an evaluation of the family. I'm going to appoint a guardian for your children." Now, what parents in their right minds would let that happen in a situation where they're just trying to decide access to his girlfriend? They'll find a solution to this problem, I predict.

COSSACK: Neal, I asked -- I asked Pam what she would tell the Hanovers. Now I'm going to ask you, what would you tell Mayor Giuliani, if you were representing him?

HERSH: Well, that's a loaded question because I take grave exception to what has been going on here in terms of Ms. Hanover. And if I could just say this as a way of background -- I think Ms. Hanover is trying to micromanage, and the judge is going along with the micromanagement of Giuliani's decisions to bring a woman into his life. These are mature people.

The request to keep the children away from Ms. Hanover (sic) I think, at some level, is ridiculous because I think the mayor is smart enough -- he's -- no one could doubt his intelligence -- that he would be able to figure out an intelligent and an appropriate way to introduce his children to -- to his -- his companion.

And I don't think that Ms. Hanover has to be involved in that unless there's some evidence that he's going to harm these kids. And I think for someone to say that they have 30 days to figure it out, the two of them, gives Ms. Hanover sort of a veto power of the methodology that the mayor wants to utilize to introduce the children.

I would tell him, of course, that he should stay away from making any comments to the press, but I would tell him that this is his personal life, and it really is not anyone's business how he lives it. That includes the public, and it also includes Ms. Hanover, unless there's evidence that he's doing anything to harm these children.

COSSACK: Well...

HERSH: And I don't see that.

COSSACK: But Neal, isn't -- Neal, let me -- let me just sort of ask you -- and I -- gosh, I'm not the expert, you are. But when you say it's nobody else's life -- I mean, he is the father, but Ms. Hanover is the mother. And she does have the same interest that he does in those children. So if she feels, as the mother, there is a -- that it could be in some ways damaging to the children to suddenly find another woman in their -- in their -- in their father's life, I mean, isn't that something the court should be concerned with?

HERSH: You bet, and that happens generally with younger children, not with children of this age. And that would also be a more accurate statement, Roger, if we didn't have all this media coverage. There is no question in my mind, and I don't think anyone on the show or anyone in the country who's been watching this -- I don't think anybody would question that the children know precisely what's going on in their parents lives and precisely the person who's in their dad's life.

And the other point that we have to bring out is everybody has to have the benefit of the doubt. There is no evidence that the mayor's going to do anything to harm his children. He hasn't brought this woman around his children to date. I am certain that he would introduce them in a sensitive and in an appropriate way. And I really don't think, unless there's evidence that he's doing something to harm these children, that his wife really has a say.

And I want to just point out that if it was the situation in reverse, if she had a significant other in her life, I would say the exact same thing. It would not be the mayor's business to say how, when and if she can introduce the children...

COSSACK: All right...

HERSH: ... to this individual.

COSSACK: All right, let me go back to Pam on this. Pam...

SLOAN: Yes?

COSSACK: ... the battle lines are drawn here. Neal takes the position that, in fact, perhaps there shouldn't be a judge involved here and there should be -- unless you can show some actual harm, court should have stayed out of this, let them work it out themselves.

SLOAN: Roger, I'm back to the parenting issue here. First of all, right now we have two parents, as far as I know from what I've read in the paper -- and that's all I know -- neither parent has been awarded temporary custody. So right now, but for the divorce litigation, they're just like everyone else who has children. And sometimes we agree on decisions for our children, and sometimes we disagree on decisions for our children.

This is a very big issue in any -- in the life of any child of divorce, meeting their -- their -- a parent's significant other. Any shrink will tell you this. Any -- you know, any mental health professional will tell you how this issue is dealt with is critically important to the success of a child's life post-divorce.

The fact that this is an issue tells me -- especially, as Neal said -- he referred to the age of the children. The fact that this is an issue in court and that Justice Giche is threatening to appoint a law guardian for the children, tells me that the children have an opinion, that the children have a point of view. And unless the parents can agree on -- on how they're going to hear the children and make a plan, that the judge is going to appoint a law guardian to represent them. And in New York, a law guardian...

COSSACK: Pam, I'm -- Pam, I'm afraid I have to interrupt you because we...

SLOAN: Sure.

COSSACK: ... have now run out of time. But thank you very much. Thanks today for all of our guests. Thank you for watching. And join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. I'll see you then.

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