SPEAKER’S DIVORCE: Activist urges files be unsealed

By Bill Rankin

The Paulding County divorce file of House Speaker Glenn Richardson and his wife, Susan, should be unsealed because the case is a matter of public interest, an ethics activist said in a court motion filed Tuesday.

George Anderson of Rome filed the motion in Paulding County Superior Court, seeking an order to open the file to the public.

“The records may well hold the answers to many of the questions raised whether this divorce was given special priority and special treatment,” said Atlanta lawyer Gerry Weber, who represents Anderson.

“While divorce is always sensitive and heart-breaking, treating the House speaker’s divorce records like all other citizens’ will help keep any back-door politics and special favors in check.”

“Just like the speaker works to protect the privacy of the citizens of Georgia, his family and children deserve the same privacy,” Clelia Davis, a Richardson spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

“He has not and will not comment on matters affecting his family.” Susan Richardson could not be reached for comment.

Randall Kessler, an Atlanta family law attorney, predicted there is not much information in the court file because it is an uncontested divorce.

On Feb. 6, Paulding Superior Court Judge Jim Osborne signed an order sealing the documents of the divorce case, even though it had been assigned to Superior Court Judge Tonny Beavers.

Osborne made his decision after the Richardsons appeared privately before him in his chambers.

Osborne was a law partner of Richardson’s in the early ’90s. Osborne’s daughter is a lawyer at Richardson’s law firm in Dallas, the county seat.

In his order, Osborne said he sealed the file after finding the harm to the Richardsons and their three children “outweighs any public interest and access to that portion of the record.”

Anderson’s motion contends Osborne failed to follow proper procedure when sealing the file.

The motion cites a 1988 Georgia Supreme Court decision allowing The Atlanta Journal-Constitution access to sealed court records involving a woman’s lawsuit against a Roman Catholic priest and the Catholic Diocese of Savannah.

“Public access protects litigants both present and future …” that ruling said.