A Hennepin County judicial officer heard arguments Tuesday morning in Alpha News’ motion to unseal Rep. Keith Ellison’s divorce records.
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.
The efforts to unseal comes amid the ongoing domestic violence allegations against Ellison. Karen Monahan, Ellison’s former girlfriend, says the congressman physically and verbally abused her. Monahan has shared private messages and medical records that corroborate her claims.
The matter becomes more pressing given that Ellison is running for attorney general of Minnesota–a factor that must be taken into consideration in the request to unseal, Star Tribune attorney Leita Walker argued.
“You also have to look at current events, which involves Mr. Ellison’s candidacy for head attorney of the state of Minnesota,” Walker said. “There is a very strong interest in understanding what is in court files to which he was a party.”
Walker said the “vague privacy and safety concerns” cited by Ellison’s attorney are not sufficient reason to keep the file sealed. As Alpha News has noted, the Star Tribune and other media outlets in Minnesota have requested the unsealing of other files, including Prince’s 2006 divorce records. The difference in this case is that Ellison is running for public office, a factor that Walker says “counts in favor of greater transparency, not less.”
Walker also argued it would be a “very odd anomaly” if public officials were granted more privacy rights than private litigants.
In her opposition, Ellison’s attorney, Carla Kjellberg, took aim at Alpha News, implying information revealed by unsealing the divorce file would be used for an “improper purpose.”
Walker rejected Kjellberg’s argument, saying that singling out Alpha News could be considered viewpoint discrimination.
Kjellberg also cited specific concerns about Ellison’s Muslim faith causing greater security concern, saying the “court needs to take notice” of the current political climate.
Alpha News’ attorney Nathan Hansen pushed back on the inclusion of Ellison’s personal beliefs in the decision regarding the divorce file.
“It’s our position that anybody’s faith or lack of faith shouldn’t factor into the court’s decision,” Hansen said.
Normally the court has 90 days to rule on a case of this nature. However, with the election looming, Hennepin County Family Referee Jason Hutchison acknowledged the case must wrap up sooner, saying he expects to rule no later than Friday at noon.