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  • Kerry defends taking more liberties than most

       June 30, 2004

    CNN reports that John F'n Kerry has "ruled out" opening his 1988 divorce records, saying that they were "old history that had nothing to do with anyone else."

    This comes hot on the heels of the recent unsealing of Illinois candidate Jack Ryan's divorce records. As you likely know, those records revealed allegations by his ex-wife that he was "in to" certain things that many would call kinky or depraved.

    I agree with John Kerry that his divorce is a private matter, and that it shouldn't be of anyone's concern except for his and his ex-wife's. But the issue here isn't his divorce, it's the public records pertaining to his divorce, and there is a difference. Now, before you get all worked up and accuse me of making a distinction that is but a distinction without a difference, let me explain.

    Here in the good ol' USA, we place a high value on maintaining open access to all public records. Open records help to ensure that the judicial system retains integrity and that public confidence in the system remains intact. Maintaining public confidence in the judicial system is of such paramount importance that the Cannons of Judicial conduct require that judges recuse themselves not only from cases in which they have a material conflict of interest, but also from cases in which there could be any perception of impropriety, regardless of whether a conflict actually exists and not putting a lot of weight on how reasonable that perception actually is.

    I'm not citing all of this to make some convoluted argument that divulging the details of John Kerry's divorce will make America a stronger nation - instead, I cite it as an explanation as to why ALL divorce records, are, by default, open records.

    That's right, if you, me, or any of 99.9% of the other 280 million people in this great nation (god forbid) got a divorce, then those records would be "open records," freely available to anyone who asked. Divorce records are no different from any other type of public record, be it civil or criminal. Like it or not, this is the way the America is and how it has always been.

    I know more than a few people that were outraged to learn that records of their past traffic violations, DUI convictions, misdemeanors, criminal violations, etc., are just a mouse click away. See, for example, Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (CCAP). And it doesn't stop there - know anyone who is public employee? Did you know that information as personal as his salary is freely available, as a public record? (So are property tax records, assessor records, etc.)

    I know of people who found information about themselves in one of the two above mentioned databases and tried, unsuccessfully, to have the record "sealed" or "removed" from the system. Their efforts were futile, because public records are just too important to the American system.

    Of course, it is possible to get divorce records sealed in "extreme circumstances," (or if you "know someone.") In Jack Ryan's case, a judge initially ruled that given the content of the records, and given the high profile of the couple, the records should be sealed to protect Ryan's son Alex, who is now 9 years old. However, the records didn't stay sealed; as we all now know, the Chicago Tribune sued, claiming that the public interest outweighed the Ryans' concerns about their privacy and any possible effect on their now 9-year-old son. The judge in that proceeding agreed with the Tribune, and ordered the records unsealed.

    I wonder, if a Judge has already ruled that the public interest in the disclosure of a Senatorial candidate's divorce records outweighs concerns over privacy re: allegations of kinky sex practices and protecting a 9 year old, then how can a court possibly find that the public interest doesn't outweigh the privacy interests of a Presidential candidate with no young children, whatever the records may contain?

    I don't fault John Kerry for wanting to keep a personal issue out of the public spotlight. If it were me, I'd want to do the same thing. That's want, not do.) But, mind you, if it was me, my records wouldn't be sealed in the first place - not by my choice, I just wouldn't have a say in the matter.

    See, I'm not rich. I'm not powerful. I don't know many people in high places.

    In net, I'm not John Kerry, man of the people.

    Posted by jkhat at June 30, 2004 11:45 AM

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