In case you hadn’t heard, Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock’s 2016 marriage to Oulèye Ndoye headed to divorce court in 2019 and ended in 2020. Since that time, however, the couple has been engaged in ongoing battles over the terms of the settlement and child custody issues. Now, as the midterms approach and Warnock will likely be facing an uphill battle to win a full term of his own, he’s asking a judge to seal the court records of the custody dispute. The reason his attorneys have offered is that his political opponents could use the messy breakup and subsequent legal actions as campaign fodder against him. The judge hasn’t ruled on the matter yet, but it’s not impossible that Warnock could prevail. (Free Beacon)
Democratic senator Raphael Warnock asked a Georgia judge on Tuesday to seal his contentious child custody dispute from the public, arguing that because he is “currently running for reelection” his opponent could use the case to “gain some political advantage,” according to a court motion obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Warnock made the request in a joint motion with his ex-wife, Oulèye Ndoye, following renewed media attention on their divorce. Warnock and Ndoye said in the filing that there is an “overriding interest that is likely to prejudice the parties and their minor children if hearings relating to modification of custody is not closed.” The motion says Warnock is a “public figure serving in a political office” and “is currently running for reelection for said political office.”
“[Warnock’s] opposition is utilizing the public records in order to gain some political advantage or gain,” said the filing, adding that their children could be “harmed by any unstable person who sympathizes” with his opponent.
These types of marital disputes are always messy, particularly when there are children involved. That pattern becomes magnified when one of the ex-spouses is in politics. This case is no different, so it’s not very surprising to see Warnock attempting to have the records sealed.
I’ve always been of two minds when questions like this arise. My gut instinct is to say that the matter should be kept as private as possible to minimize the risk of causing unwanted attention to be focused on the children, potentially putting them in harm’s way or at least making them the recipients of unwanted intrusions by the media or the public. It’s hard enough to see your parents breaking up without having people chasing you around with a microphone when you’re a child.
But at the same time, Warnock is now a sitting elected representative, so his personal right to privacy is largely overridden by the public’s right to know who they are voting for. If there are elements of the custody case that potentially speak to his character and personal values, wouldn’t the voters have the right to know about such matters? Take for example the previous allegation that he intentionally ran over his wife’s foot with his car. (A claim that he denies.) If substantiated, that sort of thing suggests someone with a short temper and potentially violent impulses.
The current allegations by the ex-wife involve incidents where he has failed to pay for child support costs, didn’t show up to collect the children for his designated days or sent other friends to pick them up and deposit them with babysitters. Clearly, none of these things rise to the level of child abuse or physical assault, but if they speak to questions of personal responsibility, not to mention devotion to his family, are those issues the public deserves to know about?
As I said, it’s a complicated question. For people not involved in public service, who are clearly private citizens, matters like this custody dispute are best handled in private unless one of the parties represents a potential threat to the community. But when you step up and offer yourself as an elected public servant your life immediately becomes something of an open book. It’s just a shame that the children may wind up being the ones to pay a price for this.