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Ellison's divorce records ordered unsealed

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Keith Ellison takes questions from reporters.
A court official ordered Friday that Keith Ellison's 2012 divorce records be made public next week.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Updated: 4:53 p.m. | Published: 3:36 p.m.

A judicial officer ordered Friday that Rep. Keith Ellison's divorce records be unsealed next week, opening the documents to the public weeks before the election and amid a contentious race for Minnesota attorney general.

In an order issued Friday, Hennepin County Family Court Referee Jason Hutchison said the records in Ellison's 2012 divorce with ex-wife Kim Ellison will be unsealed on Oct. 17. 

Ellison will appeal the order, his lawyer said.

Ellison, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, has been accused of domestic abuse by his ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan, who said he tried to drag her off a bed by her foot during a dispute in 2016. Ellison denies the allegation.

In September, the Star Tribune newspaper joined Alpha News, a conservative online news site, in pushing to unseal the divorce records, arguing it was a matter of public interest.

In arguments earlier this week, Ellison's attorney asked the court to review the file for any instances of alleged abuse but argued the rest of the file should remain private to protect the privacy and safety of both parties. Kim Ellison, a member of the Minneapolis school board, is also a public official.

But Hutchison said state law makes a strong case that the records should be public, and the concerns about privacy and safety were "vague and speculative — they have not asserted any clear, specific concerns unique to their case," he wrote in the order.

Divorce records are usually open to the public, but judges can move to seal the documents if both sides agree.

"The court is sensitive to these concerns and recognizes that no litigant relishes the idea of the friends, neighbors and opponents having access to their divorce file, but open access is the presumption in Minnesota," he continued.

An attorney for Ellison says Ellison will appeal the court referee's order.

"Keith and Kim Ellison remain jointly opposed to this effort to exploit the details of their personal life, and the lives of their children, for political gain," Ellison's attorney Carla Kjellberg said in a statement. "Ms. Ellison has been clear that there was no abuse by Mr. Ellison before, during, or after their marriage. We will be appealing for a stay against this intrusion into the privacy of their family life."

In arguing to unseal Ellison's records, attorneys for the Star Tribune and Alpha News said Ellison is already a public official and unsealing his divorce records will not increase safety risks. They also said the fact that he's a public official only increases the need for transparency.

The ruling also noted their roles as public officials mean their schedules are already mostly a matter of public record.

Early voting is already underway for the Nov. 6 election. Ellison is being challenged by Republican Doug Wardlow, and several polls show the race is close.

The delay in releasing the documents gives the court time to review them and redact any information that violates state law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.