A coalition of local and national media partners is asking a judge to unseal court documents in the divorce proceedings of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with killing George Floyd.
A motion filed by the coalition Monday in Washington County District Court said the U.S. Constitution gives the media and public access to every stage of judicial proceedings, including divorces, and that the court sidestepped protocol in presumably sealing the divorce documents.
“This is a case of utmost public concern,” said the motion filed by attorney Leita Walker. “That is a reason for more transparency, not less. Indeed, it would be nothing short of absurd to grant the parties to this case more privacy than the average divorce proceeding,” she wrote.
The coalition includes the Star Tribune, the Associated Press, CBS News, WCCO-TV, KSTP-TV and other Hubbard Broadcasting Inc. properties, KARE 11, the New York Times Co. and the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.
Kellie Chauvin filed for divorce in late May, days after her husband was charged with killing Floyd on May 25 by kneeling on his neck for several minutes during an arrest.
Kellie and Derek Chauvin filed a joint motion Wednesday asking a judge to seal their divorce case, making the existence of any proceedings or court documents invisible to the public.
Their filing argued that “rage and violence” have been directed at both of them, that several credit cards were opened in Derek Chauvin’s name and that both of their financial accounts were hacked, leading to attempts to secure cash advances for tens of thousands of dollars.
“Allowing public access of this [divorce] file will allow further harassment of [Kellie Chauvin] and not allow privacy in this matter,” said the Chauvins’ filing.
They also argued that publicizing hearings in the case would make Kellie and Derek Chauvin’s whereabouts known and “negatively affect the parties from a safety standpoint.”
The move came the same day they were both charged in Washington County with felony tax crimes dating back to 2014. They allegedly failed to report more than $460,000 in income.
Sometime Friday, their divorce case became unavailable in the state’s public court system, presumably because a judge had granted the Chauvins’ request.
The media coalition argued that the Chauvins cited “only cursory proposed findings” to justify sealing the case and that the court failed to provide the public and media an opportunity to be heard on the matter before the case disappeared from the public section of the electronic docketing system.
Case law and precedent have imposed a high threshold for sealing divorce cases, the coalition noted.
“That the divorce proceedings may be an attempt to shield the couple’s assets from criminal forfeiture or from recovery by the Floyd family in their civil lawsuit serves only to increase the public interest in those proceedings,” the coalition argued. “Likewise, the probability that this case will involve information relevant to the felony tax fraud charges filed against the couple makes transparency in the proceedings all the more important.”
The motion noted that the Star Tribune previously successfully moved the court to unseal the divorce files of the late musician Prince Rogers Nelson and Manuela Testolini, and the files of Attorney General Keith and Kim Ellison.
State case law has found that divorce filings should be public and that sealing them is an “extraordinary deviation,” the motion said. Other measures can be taken to protect Kellie Chauvin, such as security at court hearings, the coalition argued.