By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun
10:10 AM EDT, May 4, 2014
Previously sealed documents relating to the divorce case between Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman and her husband, Paul Volkman, were declared open last week, at least temporarily reversing an earlier order to shield the case from public scrutiny.
In March, an Anne Arundel judge granted Neuman's request to seal the case without holding a hearing to determine if there was cause to do so, prompting objections from media organizations including The Baltimore Sun — and the decision to release documents until a hearing can be held.
Volkman filed for divorce March 24 and Neuman filed a motion to seal the files, arguing that because of her political position, the case was likely to result in gossip that could harm the couple's children.
Anne Arundel Circuit Judge William C. Mulford II granted the order April 1.
But under Maryland's Rules of Procedure such cases should only be sealed when the court finds a "special and compelling reason" to do so. Otherwise divorce case files are open to the public, as are other civil cases.
Sealed cases don't show up in Maryland's online case search, and court officials will neither confirm or deny their existence.
The unsealed documents contain typical complaints found in such proceedings.
Neuman said her attorney suggested requesting the files be sealed, and she agreed. She declined to comment further on her case. "It's a personal matter. There's nothing to say," Neuman said.
Volkman declined to comment on the divorce filing. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
The Sun filed a Public Information Act request with Clerk of the Court Robert Duckworth on April 17, asking to view the file, and followed up April 18 with a request to Judge Paul Hackner, administrative judge for Anne Arundel County.
The Sun argued that Neuman's position as county executive did not meet the standard of "special and compelling reason," and that the records of elected officials should be treated just like the records of any other divorcing couple.
Hackner assigned the case — and The Sun's request — to retired Judge Diane O. Leasure on April 22. The case was transferred to Queen Anne's County. On May 1, Leasure voided the order to seal the case and set a hearing date later this month on Neuman's original motion. The judge might still seal it, but it's open until the hearing.
Leigh Goodmark, a visiting professor at the University of Maryland's Francis King Carey School of Law, said it's unusual for an entire divorce case to be sealed.
Goodmark said this is the second time she's heard of an entire case file being sealed. The first was earlier this year when state Sen. Richard Colburn's divorce case in Dorchester County was briefly sealed.
Neuman was appointed county executive in February 2013 after the resignation of John R. Leopold, who was convicted of misconduct in office. She is in the midst of a competitive Republican primary against Del. Steve Schuh of Gibson Island.
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