Ravenel Maintains Innocence

Former South Carolina treasurer, arrested on D.W.I. charge in July, says his refusal to take a breath test was based on bad advice from S.C. lawyer
Thomas Ravenel, right, leaving East Hampton Town Justice Court Thursday with his attorney Trevor Darrell T.E. McMorrow

Thomas Ravenel, a former South Carolina state treasurer who had reportedly been contemplating a primary challenge to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, said after his appearance Thursday in East Hampton Town Justice Court that he does not see a political future for himself in the Palmetto State.

Mr. Ravenel was arrested in East Hampton Village on July 22 on a drunken driving charge after he allegedly swerved across lane lines. He refused to take a breath test at police headquarters, and has maintained all along that he had not been drinking. In his mug shot, which was released to the press, he appeared calm and composed "because I wasn't drunk," he said.

But that may make little difference when it comes to his political aspirations. "Just the appearance, even though I was not," he said Thursday. "I've gone outside the margin."

Mr. Ravenel was on the South Fork for the summer to play polo. He was driving back to the house where he was staying in Bridgehampton early in the morning on July 22 when he was pulled over by village police. He said Thursday that he had called an attorney in South Carolina from the station and had received bad advice regarding the breath test.

South Carolina law regarding drunken driving is very similar to New York law. In South Carolina, as in New York, a defendant is required to take a breath test if requested to do so by the police, with a mandatory license suspension for failure to comply.

Trevor Darrell, his local attorney, expressed dismay in court and afterward Thursday with the lack of speed with which the Suffolk County district attorney's office is performing discovery, the required sharing of all information held by the prosecutor with the defendant.

"Why is it taking so long?" Mr. Darrell asked outside the courthouse. "I have no idea. This is several months down the road. We requested it three months ago. So I don't know the reason for the delay."

Mr. Ravenel, who flew in Thursday and returned to South Carolina immediately after his court appearance, is the son of former United States Representative Arthur Ravenel Jr. He was elected South Carolina treasurer in 2006, but was indicted by the United States attorney's office less than a year after taking office on charges of buying cocaine with plans to distribute it.

He pleaded guilty to possession with plans to distribute less than 100 grams of cocaine in 2007, two months after resigning as treasurer, but had recently begun to rehabilitate his image in his home state.

Justice Catherine A. Cahill ruled Thursday that Mr. Ravenel will not have to personally appear at his next scheduled court session on Dec. 7, unless a negotiated disposition to the case is in the offing. Unless there are mitigating circumstances, District Attorney Thomas Spota's office rarely plea bargains a driving while intoxicated charge to a lower-level offense when the defendant has refused a breath test.