(KMSP) - A Hennepin County family court referee says he’ll decide by Friday whether to unseal records in Democratic Attorney General candidate Keith Ellison’s divorce file.
The request comes from two media outlets, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the conservative website Alpha News, which sued to gain access. The file has been sealed since 2012, but the media outlets argue that the public has a right to know what’s in the divorce records.
The request comes in the wake of Ellison’s ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan, accusing Ellison of physically abusing her during their relationship. Ellison’s ex-wife, Kim Ellison, has come to Ellison’s defense.
Ellison’s lawyer said after Tuesday’s hearing that the divorce file contained no accusations that Ellison had been abusive toward Kim Ellison.
“Absolutely not. I know the file,” said Carla Kjellberg, who has represented Ellison in the divorce case for years. “Release any information that indicates that Mr. Ellison has been abusive. Seal the rest of the file.”
Kjellberg said unsealing the divorce file would put both Ellisons’ security at risk, citing death threats that Keith Ellison has received as the first Muslim member of Congress.
But attorneys for the two media outlets said Minnesota divorce cases have a presumption of openness, arguing that an elected official who’s running for statewide office is subject to scrutiny.
“The public interest outweighs the privacy concerns,” Nathan Hansen, a lawyer for Alpha News, told reporters after the hearing. “We have somebody here who’s running for statewide office.”
Lawyers representing the Star Tribune declined comment after the hearing.
The Family Court referee, Jason Hutchison, peppered lawyers for both with questions during a one-hour hearing. He acknowledged the need for a quick ruling with the election is four weeks away.
Kjellberg said the lawsuit was politically motivated and accused Alpha News of coordinating with Ellison’s Republican opponent, Doug Wardlow.
“This motion is being used to interfere in an election,” Kjellberg said.
Hansen, the lawyer for Alpha News, denied the charge.
“I mean, there may be people ideologically aligned with Doug Wardlow [at Alpha News], but there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said.
Neither Keith Ellison nor Kim Ellison attended the hearing. Keith Ellison was campaigning in Moorhead, where he held a roundtable with students about voting rights Tuesday morning.