Like any optimist, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is hoping divorce privacy laws will keep his personal history from impacting his campaign to become Minnesota attorney general. That may be difficult with the Star Tribune suing to unseal his divorce records.

Divorce Privacy

Minnesota Allegations

Ellison and his ex-wife, Kim Ellison, divorced in 2012. The related records have been sealed, so the public cannot access the information. The efforts to unseal the divorce records follow allegations by Ellison’s ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan, that Ellison domestically abused her in 2016.

Ms. Monahan, a Sierra Club organizer, reportedly said she suffered “emotional and physical abuse” during their long-term relationship, including an incident in which she said Mr. Ellison dragged her from a bed and screamed obscenities at her.

The Star Tribune argued that, given the public interest around that situation and Kim Ellison’s public support of her ex-husband, the divorce records are a matter of concern to voters.

Divorce records are typically public, but judges will often agree to seal them if both parties to the case agree and no one else objects.

Florida Divorce Privacy

I’ve written on divorce privacy issues before. Divorce privacy is an issue that comes up a lot. Divorces in court are public events, and the filed records of court proceedings are public records available for public examination.

Both the public and the media can challenge any closure order by a divorce court. The closure of court proceedings or records should only really occur  when it’s necessary to comply with established public policy, to protect trade secrets; or to protect children in a divorce among other reasons.

Florida also has new rules protecting sensitive data from public view. This includes protecting Social Security, Bank Account, Debit, and Credit Card Numbers because if those numbers are included in a document, they may become part of the public record.

If information is absolutely required, there is a rule with procedures for sealing and unsealing of court records. Also, the Clerk of Court has the authority to redact or make confidential only specific information.

If sensitive information has already been filed in Court Records, you must complete and submit a “Notice of Confidential Information Within Court Filing” in order to remove or seal it.

Close Race

The Star Tribune argued that, given the public interest around that situation and Kim Ellison’s public support of her ex-husband, the divorce records are a matter of concern to voters.

Divorce records are typically public in Minnesota, but judges will often agree to seal them if both parties to the case agree and no one else objects. The Ellison campaign released a statement from Kim Ellison on behalf of both her and Keith Ellison.

“Our divorce simply isn’t the public’s business, and therefore, when we separated, we jointly asked the court to seal the file. Now, one month before a closely contested election for Minnesota Attorney General, a conservative group wants to probe our divorce file in search of something to use against Keith in this race. I am disappointed that the Star Tribune would choose to file this motion.”

Polls show this is a very tight attorney general race. A poll released September 16 shows Republican challenger Doug Wardlow and Ellison with 41 percentage points each. The Star Tribune/Minnesota Poll released September 19 shows Ellison with a five-point lead. That is still within the margin of error.

The Star Tribune article is here.

 

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