Bartlett Jr has divorce file sealed, denounces blogs

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Welcome, new readers! Click this link to read the blog article in question regarding Dewey Bartlett Jr's divorce filings and what his own side's assertions tell us about his financial acumen. Did Bartlett Jr fairly characterize what I posted? Read the article and the accompanying documents for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Then read my response to Bartlett Jr below.

On Thursday, September 3, 2009, at about 2:45 pm Tulsa mayoral candidate Dewey Bartlett Jr filed an application to seal the record of his 2002 divorce case against his first wife. The order was handed down at 3:09 pm, signed and entered by Judge Rodney B. Sparkman at 4:25 pm.

Part of the record -- the trial transcript from January 2004 -- was already under seal. From the docket report, it appears that this seal was placed in September 2004, when Bartlett was running against Tom Adelson for the open State Senate District 33 seat.

Yesterday (September 4, 2009) afternoon at about 4 pm, I received a call from Tulsa World reporter Brian Barber, who informed me about the seal and about Bartlett's comments and asked me for my reaction. My response was fairly reported in the story by Brian Barber and Bill Braun in this morning's edition.

Dewey Bartlett Jr doesn't seem to have looked at what I posted, as what he and his attorneys are saying about that information is not accurate. Let's take his claims point by point:

"I have no desire to hide anything from public record," Bartlett told the Tulsa World, but he called the bloggers' actions irresponsible. "I am glad for any member of the legitimate media to have total access to that information."

The first statement seems to be contradicted by his action on Thursday, asking a judge to block the public record of his divorce from public scrutiny, and by his decision in 2002 to style the case using his and his wife's first initials rather than their full names, making the case more difficult for the public to locate.

Secondly, there's only one blogger who has posted anything from the public record of his divorce. That would be me, and I feel I was very responsible and selective as to what I posted. There was far more material that I viewed but decided not to post because it was irrelevant to what in my judgment were the newsworthy aspects of the file.

Third, his use of the term "legitimate media" should alarm Tulsa media outlets of every type. The phrase suggests that only he should get to choose which outlets he considers legitimate and should have "total access to that information." I would hope that organizations like Media Bloggers Association and Freedom of Information Oklahoma would recognize this kind of talk as disrespect for, if not an actual threat to, public access to public records and freedom of the press for all Americans, not just for "officially approved" media outlets.

Now for the next statement in need of correction:

The application for an order to immediately seal the record, filed by Bartlett's attorneys, states that "the file contains sensitive personal financial information such as account numbers, which are being publicly disseminated on the Internet by certain persons who post political blogs."

As far as I can determine via search engines, BatesLine is the only website or blog on which information about Bartlett Jr's divorce has been posted.

Furthermore, the information I posted did NOT contain any account numbers or any other sensitive personal financial information. As I mentioned in the entry, I was careful to redact three bank account numbers which appeared on a single page of the original document. No other sensitive identifying information appeared anywhere in the documents that I posted. (For example, I did not see any Social Security IDs or driver's license numbers anywhere in the documents I examined, much less in the documents I posted.)

As for the sensitivity of the financial information, Bartlett Jr's May 16, 2003, motion for summary judgment contains information about transactions that all occurred at least seven years ago. Most of these transactions involve real estate that he no longer owns, a trust that has been distributed, and a company that has been liquidated. The filing contains the names of companies in which he had (in December 2002) an ownership interest, and to the extent that he, a candidate for mayor, is still invested in these companies, it is a matter of public interest.

Most of the 18-page main body of Bartlett Jr's motion for summary judgment is devoted to a brief that cites other divorce cases as precedent for Bartlett Jr's claims of separate vs. marital property. There isn't any personal information about Bartlett Jr in that part of the brief, but those citations of earlier cases do highlight the public importance of a given divorce case beyond the public matter of the dissolution of a single marriage. Precedent plays a central role in our legal system, and the facts of a case and the decision rendered by the judge in that case are fodder for attorneys' arguments in future cases.

Bartlett's next claim:

But there is a difference between government records and personal records that contain sensitive financial information, not just about his family, but former and current business partners, as well, [Bartlett Jr] said.

"I was quite disturbed to find all of that was being disseminated on the Web," Bartlett said.

"Ninety-nine percent of our fellow citizens are honest and good people. It's that 1 percent that I didn't want to give the opportunity to unfairly use that information to help themselves and hurt a lot of others."

The only former partner mentioned in these documents is his first wife. The companies mentioned are Keener Oil Company (KOC), the Bartlett family business which was "essentially liquidated" "in the first six months of 1994"; Keener Oil and Gas Company, the business that Bartlett Jr founded around the same time; Sage Properties Ltd., a real estate lot development partnership in which he was invested; and Lumen Oil Co., a company acquired by KOC, shares of which were received by Bartlett Jr and other KOC shareholders. Lumen and Sage don't appear to have a presence on the web, if indeed they still exist. The documents I posted don't even identify the states in which these entities were incorporated. There are, in what I posted, generic references to different sorts of investment accounts and financial institutions, but nothing that identifies specific account numbers or any other identifying information that could be used in identity theft.

While there may be good cause to seal some documents in the file or to redact bits of information from some pages of some documents because of the presence of account numbers and other identifying information, the reported claim by Bartlett Jr and his attorneys that "bloggers" have posted such sensitive identifying information on the Internet or disseminated that information in any way is false. Bartlett Jr is indirectly accusing me of doing something that I did not do. Had he looked at the information I posted, that would have been blindingly obvious.

Some of the information I posted may well be embarrassing to Bartlett Jr, to the extent that it may contradict the image of successful businessman and job creator that has been set forth in the marketing of his candidacy. But what I posted doesn't fit the false picture that Bartlett Jr and his attorneys have painted.

MORE: The World story mentions that Bartlett is one of several candidates who signed FOI Oklahoma's transparency pledge. Medlock for Mayor campaign manager Howie Morgan e-mailed in response:

If Dewey signed the FOI pledge, he did it in the last 2 days. His name was not on the list when I looked at their page on Thursday Sept. 3. And they put us on the web within an hour of our signing.

September 3 is the date that Bartlett Jr applied to have his divorce case sealed.

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3 Comments

Bob said:

Wonderful, in-depth analysis on Dewey, Jr.'s lack of apparent financial acumen.

One point:

Was Dewey, Jr. really all that bad in managing his money, or was he and his attorney simply trying to perjuriously minimize the increase in the size in his marital estate, in order to swindle his spouse of 20 years.....?

By the way, I simply abhore Dewey, Jr.'s radio commercials, especially the part about "devoted family man".......

Ted D said:

Seems like Bartlett (or is it Bartlet) learned a thing or two from Obama about campaigning.....Don't let the voting public know anything about you until after the election, if then.

There isn't any personal information about Bartlett Jr in that part of the brief, but those citations of earlier cases do highlight the public importance of a given divorce case beyond the public matter of the dissolution of a single marriage. Precedent plays a central role in our legal system, and the facts of a case and the decision rendered by the judge in that case are fodder for attorneys' arguments in future cases.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 5, 2009 4:03 AM.

District 5: For Bill Martinson, number cruncher, straight talker, grownup was the previous entry in this blog.

OSU journalism prof to Bartlett Jr: "Sealing court records isn't supporting the public's right to know" is the next entry in this blog.

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