Keith Ellison's divorce records unsealed: Congressman said he was abused
ST. PAUL — Keith Ellison's ex-wife never accused him of abusing her — though he accused her of physically abusing him.
Those are among the takeaways from the unsealing of the former couple's divorce court records Wednesday, Oct. 17. The release was hotly anticipated by journalists and partisans closely following the Democratic congressman's bid to be elected Minnesota's attorney general and his tight race with Republican Doug Wardlow.
The unsealing of dozens of documents came over the objections of both Keith and Kim Ellison and was the result of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Alpha News, a right-leaning news website, successfully arguing in court that they shouldn't be kept secret. Their request followed an allegation in August by an ex-girlfriend of Keith Ellison that he abused her in his Minneapolis home in 2016.
That allegation — which Ellison denied and has yet to be investigated by police — has been a flashpoint in Ellison's race with Wardlow, whose campaign sought to seize on some aspects of the divorce case to tarnish Ellison.
There's some news, some non-news and some unresolved issues still to be worked out. Here are six takeaways:
No bombshell, but marriage woes laid bare
You can judge for yourselves from below, but there's nothing implicating Keith Ellison of anything salacious. Nothing like that at all in the public records.
Still, the records lay bare features of the demise of the 25-year marriage between the two elected officials. Kim Ellison serves on the Minneapolis Board of Education.
The records date back to when the couple legally separated in 2011, when two of their four children were minors. As the Ellisons feared, some of the documents now public contain details that appear to be tied to what Kim Ellison described Tuesday as depression following her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.
Divorces are messy
As many who have been party to a divorce can attest, they're often messy. And the Ellisons' was, too.
By 2011, the marriage that Keith Ellison described Wednesday as "storybook" suffered an "irretrievable breakdown." That's a legal term often used in Minnesota for so-called "no-fault" divorces.
Like many such divorces, at first, the Ellisons — Keith via his attorney and Kim representing herself — seemed on a relatively amicable path to the process of splitting up assets and determining child custody and future finances. They agreed to joint custody of their children, and Keith Ellison, who earned significantly more than Kim, agreed to pay for her health insurance and monthly alimony payments, including child support and spousal maintenance.
However, the spousal maintenance became a point of contention, as the couple disagreed over which colleges they could afford for their kids, and which spouse was entitled to how much money. Kim Ellison's full-time job was eliminated, leaving her limited income as a member of the Minneapolis school board. She sought more money from Keith, arguing that her multiple sclerosis was hurting her ability to get a job.
Keith Ellison pushed back. In response to a 2015 request by Kim Ellison for an increase in spousal maintenance payments, he disputed Kim's assertion that her MS was an issue. Her political activities, including attending rallies and protests, showed that she was capable, he argued. His affidavit included attachments, such as printouts from her Facebook page, her calendar and partial transcripts of a deposition his lawyer had conducted with her.
"Respondent's behavior shows that her income is not limited by her medical condition, but by her choice to work only for the School Board," Keith Ellison wrote in a signed affidavit.
At one point, she accused him of living more comfortably than he needed to. Later, he said he ditched his Washington apartment and was sleeping in his office, an arrangement that he said made him "politically vulnerable."
The issue of spousal maintenance remains unresolved.
Kim never alleged Keith abused her
Nowhere in the records is there any suggestion that Keith Ellison abused Kim Ellison. "There was never any abuse in our marriage," Kim Ellison said Tuesday.
Keith alleged Kim abused him
In his affidavit from February 2015, Keith Ellison said he was a domestic abuse victim.
"The Respondent has hit me too many times to mention," he wrote, referring to Kim. He said the events, which included one instance where she allegedly bit his arm, sometimes left marks, which his staff noticed.
"It was very humiliating to admit that I was a domestic abuse victim," Keith Ellison wrote, noting she never hit their children.
Ellison said the alleged abuse was the reason he filed for divorce.
"The Respondent constantly blamed her physical abuse of me on her depression and MS, but would always do it again," he wrote. "Finally, I had to leave the marriage."
In the affidavit, he lists more behaviors of Kim Ellison that would be consistent with depression.
On Wednesday evening, Kim Ellison posted a six-paragraph statement on her Facebook page.
"My divorce file contains details of the most difficult time in my life, when I was struggling with my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis," her statement reads, in part. "I was scared, confused, worried, angry, and became depressed. It is a record of that time that I never thought a court would force me to share with the public."
Her statement does not directly address Keith Ellison's allegations that she abused him.
Keith feels bad
On Wednesday, Keith Ellison issued a statement opposing the release of the records and criticizing the Star Tribune and Alpha News for getting the files unsealed — as most divorce files typically are.
He also apologized for some of what he said in the divorce case.
"We had a storybook marriage until the onset of her illness, which was not diagnosed until long after she was suffering the effects of it," the statement reads, in part. "One of the great regrets of my life is that I did not appreciate the debilitating effects of Kim's illness until the doctors told us that it was Multiple Sclerosis and major depression. I attribute the difficulties in our marriage to the disease and my failure to understand it. I was not nearly sensitive enough to the symptoms of her medical condition at the time, and for that I am deeply sorry.
"Kim and I have rebuilt a strong friendship as parents to our four wonderful children. I am proud of the person Kim is. We are family, and I stand by her."
Yes, it's being used in the campaign
The political impact remains to be seen. Wardlow's campaign seized on one aspect of the spousal maintenance dispute: Kim's health insurance.
"Ellison Did Not Pay Court-Ordered Health Insurance for His Wife, Despite Her Having A Pre-Existing Condition," reads the title of a statement from Wardlow's campaign.
Here's what that's about: Kim Ellison is seeking more money from Keith Ellison because, according to a statement she provided to the court, her insurance company "dropped" her from coverage.
The divorce decree in place at the time stated that Keith Ellison would include Kim Ellison in his coverage. The language does contemplate that coverage could be terminated, but the issue of whether Keith Ellison owes his ex-wife money for that has not been resolved by the judge.
A hearing on that is scheduled for later this year.