The custody battle between Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin became public last week when two Superior Court judges issued orders unsealing the court record and denying the use of pseudonyms to protect the feuding parents’ identities.
A Dec. 23 order from Judge Kari C. Kristiansen denied Palin’s motion to close the proceedings and opened the case file to public access, while an order issued the same day by Presiding Judge Sharon Gleason denied Palin’s request to use John and Jane Doe in place of Johnston’s and her own real names.
On Nov. 4, Palin filed for sole custody of Tripp Johnston-Palin, the former couple’s son, who celebrates his first birthday today. Kristiansen initially issued temporary orders limiting access to the case file and allowing the parties to file under pseudonyms.
Johnston wasn’t playing along, however. In an opposition to Palin’s motion for a gag order, Johnston’s attorney, Rex Butler, said: “Simply put, this matter is public in nature, the courts are not refuges for the scions of the elite to obtain private dispensation of their legal matters because the public at large has an interest in the proceedings.”
There’s another factor in the mix, of course: Palin’s mother, former governor Sarah Palin, with whom Johnston has repeatedly locked horns in the press, and from whom he claims to fear retaliation.
“I do not feel protected against Sarah Palin in a closed proceeding,” Johnston said in an affidavit accompanying Butler’s filings. “I hope that if it is open she will stay out of it. … I think a public case might go a long way in reducing Sarah Palin’s instinct to attack and allow the real parties in this litigation, Bristol and I, to work things out a lot more peacefully than we could if there is any more meddling from Sarah Palin.”
Johnston’s affidavit did not disclose exactly what “meddling,” if any, the former governor has engaged in during the custody case’s brief lifetime; however, he theorized that the closed proceedings might be intended to conceal some “fairly aggressive” tactics.
Palin’s attorney, Thomas Van Flein, filed a motion in November requesting a hearing to hold Johnston in contempt based on public statements he’d made about the case; however, Kristiansen denied the motion, stating that the court had closed the custody proceedings at Palin’s request, but had not granted a request for a protective gag order. In other words, while the public couldn’t access the court file, the parties were free to talk about it to anyone they liked.
Van Flein filed a notice to the court requesting the Dec. 23 orders be withdrawn; Butler had agreed to allow him an additional week to file replies with the court on the matters, he stated, but “due to an oversight,” a stipulation for the extension was not filed with the court. (Alaska attorneys commonly grant one another extensions as a matter of professional courtesy.) Van Flein has requested oral argument on the motions for closed proceedings, pseudonym use, and a gag order.
“(It) is in the best interests of (Tripp Johnston-Palin) to allow the use of pseudonyms and the entry of a protective order ensuring that this matter remains out of the press and solely within the Court, where it belongs,” Van Flein wrote.
Kristiansen received Van Flein’s late replies, but issued an order Dec. 24 denying his motion.