Monday, December 31, 2012
Court upholds order on NASCAR CEO's divorce case
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The N.C. Court of Appeals has upheld a judge's order unsealing documents in a bitter divorce case involving the head of stock-car racing.
Lawyers for NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France have fought for years to keep confidential the details of his 2008 divorce from Megan France, a Charlotte woman he has married and divorced twice.
The appeals court ruled in 2011 that the public's right to public court proceedings outweighed France's interest in maintaining secrecy. Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Jena Culler then reversed the earlier order of another judge, unsealing the divorce records.
Brian France then appealed again, effectively keeping the documents sealed until the appeals court ruled. France's lawyer, John Stephenson Jr., had argued at a court hearing in September that allowing one judge to overturn the order of another judge of equal rank would lead to "judicial anarchy."
The three-judge appeals panel ruled Monday that Culler's decision to unseal the divorce records was valid. Because the decision was unanimous, Brian France does not have the right of automatic appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court.
Stephenson, Brian France's lawyer, did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.
France's request for secrecy involves a dispute over whether his ex-wife violated confidentiality and other provisions of the agreement they reached before their most recent divorce.
According to statements made by lawyers in open court, the couple's 2008 separation agreement included paying Megan France $9 million, alimony of $32,000 a month for 10 years and $10,000 a month in child support.
North Carolina law treats most divorces as records open to public inspection. The same is true for hearings, where the parties argue their positions to a judge. Under state law, high-profile divorces and child custody disputes can be sealed at the discretion of a judge.
Brian France, who lives near NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla., also has tried to keep another legal proceeding from becoming public. He filed a federal lawsuit against his ex-wife last year, accusing her of illegally recording several of their phone calls.
Lawyers for Brian France sought to seal the record in the federal lawsuit, but later dropped the case.
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck