Official secrets

The Wall Street Journal’s law column last week examined the issue of confidential seals placed on divorce cases and whether they should be allowed. The divorce case of Gibbons v. Gibbons was a prime exhibit in the article.

“Disclosures during divorce proceedings often elicit disgust over the revelation of intimate details—or delight over the revelation of intimate details,” wrote reporter Dionne Searcy. “A string of recent divorce cases involving high-profile figures has laid bare that divide, in sometimes excruciatingly personal terms. Defenders of disclosure say revelations that come out of divorce cases can provide insight into the character and habits of elected officials and others who are accountable to the public, such as executives of public companies.”

Searcy quoted Jim Gibbons’ attorney Gary Silverman: “Only somebody who is really … sick would care about what’s going on in somebody else’s divorce.” But others say Gibbons’ conduct is relevant to his run for a second term.

The governor fought a court battle to keep his divorce records secret, but a court ruling opened them. There was little new in them because Dawn Gibbons’ attorney had publicly released most of his court filings before filing them.

Searcy recalled the case of Jack Ryan, Barack Obama’s opponent in the 2004 Illinois U.S. senate race. Ryan, married to actress Jeri Ryan, was forced out of the race and replaced as the GOP candidate after disclosure of divorce filings accusing him of pressuring his wife to engage in exotic sex practices.

Some Nevada attorneys have said that because the state has no-fault divorce, personal accusations against the governor should never have been filed because under the law they are irrelevant.

“The status should be that the records are open,” said first amendment scholar David Hudson. “The burden of proof should be placed on those who are trying to deny the disclosure of information.”