Sheena Greitens scores victory with order shifting custody case to Texas, attorney says
A Boone County judge granted former Missouri First Lady Sheena Greitens’ request to move the child custody dispute with her ex-husband to Texas, her attorney confirmed Wednesday.
The ruling, issued Friday but still under seal by order of Associate Circuit Judge Leslie Schneider, gives Sheena Greitens the thing she asked for soon after her ex-husband — former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens — became a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, attorney Helen Wade said.
“The case will proceed in Texas,” Wade said without elaborating on the details of Schneider’s ruling.
Sheena Greitens filed a motion with the Travis County, Texas, courts in July 2021 asking for the change in jurisdictions. The divorce was granted in Boone County, where Sheena Greitens lived in 2020. She now lives with the couple’s two sons in Austin, Texas, where she is on faculty at the University of Texas.
The Texas court told her to seek an order from Schneider granting the change of jurisdiction. Eric Greitens opposed it, asking Schneider to retain jurisdiction and filed a motion seeking to have the sons live with him.
The case exploded into the headlines in March, when Sheena Greitens filed a sworn statement in Boone County accusing her ex-husband of “unstable and coercive” behavior in 2018 and 2019, before and after he resigned as governor while facing possible impeachment and criminal charges.
In the GOP Senate primary, the allegations became the subject of a multi-million independent effort aimed at defeating Eric Greitens. He finished third in the Aug. 2 primary, behind Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler.
After issuing her order, Schneider directed that a copy be sent to Travis County courts to give notice of her decision. But it is sealed to anyone not on court staff or connected to the case.
Bradley Coldwell, a Texas attorney representing Sheena Greitens in that state, filed a motion in Travis County on Tuesday asking for the case there to be sealed.
While Wade has confirmed the outcome, the details of the ruling could provide an answer on whether Schneider believed the allegations made in the March affidavit and subsequent filings and testimony.
In a subsequent sworn statement, Sheena Greitens said she had photos and documents to back up her charges, and in a June interview with The Independent said she fled their home on June 11, 2018, in fear he would harm himself and the family.
Eric Greitens denied the allegations and lashed out at his ex-wife and accused his political opponents of working with her to write the affidavit and get it distributed to reporters.
Greitens made no public statements under oath about the allegations but was forced to give testimony behind closed doors in late July. None of the evidence presented in that closed proceeding has been released and a transcript of the session has not been made publicly available.
On Tuesday, The Kansas City Star filed a motion to intervene in the case in order to argue that the decision should be opened. In it, attorney Bernhard Rhodes wrote that the Missouri Constitution, state law and Missouri Supreme Court rules require cases to be open unless there is a specific legal reason, stated in writing by the court, for closing the case or some filings.
“It does not matter that both parties may desire for a court record to be closed,” Rhodes wrote on behalf of The Star, citing a 2016 ruling from the Eastern District Court of Appeals that opened a case previously sealed in its entirety.
The Independent has also cited those laws and constitutional provisions, as well as the Eastern District case, in two letters sent to Schneider asking for access to exhibits presented in court, a transcript of a closed deposition and to the Friday ruling.
The requests have been denied, citing the security level on the ruling and that there are no publicly available records of the exhibits and deposition.
Schneider put her ruling under “Level 6” security, which makes it available only to select court staff.
His motion notes that “the court’s docket contains no order sealing the judgment. Because such a detailed order is plainly required, the sealing of the judgment is invalid for this reason alone.”
Gary Stamper, attorney for Eric Greitens, declined to reveal any information about the ruling.
“I don’t know what that means and will have to check Supreme Court operating rules for guidance,” Stamper wrote in an email. “I don’t want to get into trouble.”
Just because Greitens lost the primary does not lessen the public’s interest in knowing the outcome of the case, Rhodes wrote.
“Those voters – both those who voted for Eric Greitens and those that voted against him – are entitled to know the truth of these allegations,” Rhodes wrote.
Whether Schneider will unseal her ruling is up to her, said Jean Maneke, an attorney who advises the Missouri Press Association on Sunshine Law issues.
Court proceedings are not covered by the general laws requiring open government.
While the Missouri Constitution and Missouri Supreme Court rules generally require open court proceedings, cases involving children can be an exception, she said.
“Sunshine Law and access to court records are two separate things,” Maneke said. “And there’s a lot of people in the public who don’t understand that.”
The public interest in the outcome of the case is a compelling reason to unseal the decision, Rhodes wrote.
“While Eric Greitens lost his most recent election,” Rhodes wrote, “it is naive to believe that he won’t be back; after all, he ran in this election after resigning in disgrace as Missouri’s governor.”
Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence.
Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.