CANTON — Mitt Romney’s sworn testimony in a post-divorce lawsuit against Staples founder Tom Stemberg was unsealed on Thursday at Norfolk Probate and Family Court.
The suit was filed in 1990 by Stemberg’s ex-wife, Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, who sought to amend the couple’s financial agreement after Staples went public in 1989 and began trading at 10 times the stock value she had received in the divorce a year earlier. Romney, now the Republican nominee for president, testified during the lawsuit in June 1991; the nature of his testimony was not immediately clear on Thursday.
The Globe filed a motion on Oct. 15 to unseal Romney’s testimony, which was impounded along with all other case files from the Stembergs’ 10-year legal battle. Parties in the case also signed a confidentiality agreement that Gloria Allred, the attorney for Sullivan Stemberg, called “the most comprehensive gag order I have ever seen in my 36 years of practicing law.’’
The Globe originally moved to amend the confidentiality agreement to allow parties in the case to speak publicly about Romney’s testimony but dropped the request on Thursday, when Stemberg — who had opposed the Globe’s request to unseal the testimony — rescinded his objection.
Allred argued vigorously for Sullivan Stemberg’s right to address Romney’s testimony publicly, saying Sullivan Stemberg was being denied her First Amendment Right.
“Out of context, [the testimony] has no meaning for the public,’’ Allred said. “She can put it in context.’’
The court ruled that because the Globe was no longer petitioning to modify the confidentiality order, and was satisfied by the release of Romney’s testimony, that Sullivan Stemberg would have to bring a separate motion to amend the order.
Allred indicated that she would do so and after the hearing accused the Globe of a “double cross’’ because the paper stopped its push to amend the confidentiality order.
“The Globe’s only interest all along, as should have been clear to all parties, was to obtain the transcript of a presidential candidate’s testimony,’’ Globe editor Martin Baron said in a statement. “We wanted to read it to see what was there, following standard practice in covering a major election, and we are pleased that the court recognized the great public interest in Governor Romney’s testimony. If it became possible to obtain the transcript without lifting a gag order, we had no reason to object. The gag order is a matter for others to litigate, if they wish to do so.’’
In a hearing on Wednesday, Sullivan Stemberg had stated through her attorney that she had no objection to the Globe’s request to selectively vacate the impoundment order. Romney and Staples had taken no position because they had not reviewed the 21-year-old testimony, which had been purged from court records.
But Sullivan Stemberg had saved copies of the two-decade-old records. Allred produced two, inch-thick volumes of Romney’s testimony in court on Wednesday. Romney, Staples, and Stemberg requested and received a continuance to examine the documents, setting up Thursday’s hearing about whether they could be made public.
Later on Wednesday, Sullivan Stemberg had provided a third volume of testimony to Stemberg, Staples and Romney.
After reviewing the testimony, Stemberg on Thursday dropped his objection to the documents’ release.
At the time of his testimony, Romney was the owner and chief executive of Bain Capital, a private equity firm that invested $650,000 in Staples to help the office supply company open its first store in Brighton in 1986. In total, Bain Capital invested about $2.5 million in Staples and reaped a $13 million profit when the company went public in 1989. Romney also sat on the Staples board of directors, where he was “probably the most valuable member,’’ Stemberg told the Globe in a 1994 interview.