Rep. Keith Ellison’s divorce records will be opened for public inspection next week, following Alpha News’ motion to unseal the court file.
District Judge Patrick Robben signed off on an order Friday morning to open Ellison’s divorce records to the public at the recommendation of Hennepin County Family Referee Jason Hutchison. The file will be unsealed on October 17.
Last month, Alpha News filed a motion to unseal Ellison’s divorce records, asserting the contents are a matter of concern to voters. Shortly after, the Star Tribune joined Alpha News’ efforts, citing similar public interest.
In the ruling, Hutchinson agreed the presumption of public access to the file “significantly outweighs” the Ellisons’ private interests of keeping the file sealed. The court therefore grants the unsealing, noting that “prompt transparency in this matter is important.”
During the hearing on Tuesday, Star Tribune attorney Leita Walker argued it would be a “very odd anomaly” if public officials were granted more privacy rights than private litigants. Hutchinson affirmed this logic, calling attention to the thousands of other unsealed divorce files that show the Ellisons’ concerns about privacy are not unique to them.
“As to the first reason, it is difficult to understand how the “privacy concerns,” such as potential embarrassment to the parties in this case, are any different than “privacy concerns” in the thousands of other unsealed divorce subject to public review in the Fourth Judicial District,” Hutchinson writes. “To put it another way, the Court does not see how the Ellisons’ concerns about privacy are unique to them.”
Hutchinson also rejected the argument made by Ellison’s attorney, Carla Kjellberg, that information revealed by unsealing the divorce file would be used for an “improper purpose.” As elected public officials, Hutchinson noted both Ellisons are “subject to public scrutiny and comment” and news reporting in ways the parties “do not find flattering or appealing” do not fall under the blanket of improper purposes.
Ellison has not yet publicly responded to the order to unseal.