CANTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Testimony by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in connection with the divorce of Staples Inc founder Tom Stemberg two decades ago can be made public, a state court judge ruled on Thursday.
Romney provided testimony in 1991 on behalf of Stemberg, who was battling a post-divorce lawsuit.
The court did not immediately release the documents - two inch-thick bundles of paper - leaving that to attorneys for Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, the ex-wife of Stemberg. She has disputed Romney’s description of the value of the company, according to a film-maker who interviewed her.
Sullivan Stemberg’s attorney, Gloria Allred, told reporters her office would release the testimony later on Thursday after it finished editing it to limit it to Romney’s remarks. All papers related to the case have been impounded by the court.
But Allred warned that, since the court had left in place an order that prevents either Sullivan Stemberg, Tom Stemberg or their attorneys from discussing details of the case, the June 1991 testimony may mean little to the general public.
The unsealing of documents comes less than two weeks before voters go to the polls in a presidential election in which Romney, a former Massachusetts Governor, is attempting to unseat President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
“Out of context, it is essentially meaningless to the public, and she can put it in context,” Allred said, referring to her client.
Tom Stemberg’s attorney, Brian Leary, told the court that the testimony - which Allred produced in court on Wednesday - amounted to a primer on private equity. When Romney testified, he was working with Bain Capital, an early investor in Staples.
Assistant Judicial Case Manager Jennifer Ulwick agreed to the release of the documents at the request of the Boston Globe newspaper, which argued that the confidentiality rules surrounding Romney’s testimony no longer applied now that he is a candidate for public office.
Romney attorney Robert Jones said the candidate had no objection to the testimony being made public. Jones declined to comment to reporters after the hearing at Norfolk Probate & Family Court in Canton, Massachusetts, south of Boston.
Staples also raised no objections to the release.
At issue is how Romney described the value of Staples. An independent filmmaker who interviewed Sullivan Stemberg for an uncompleted movie project told Reuters on Wednesday that she felt he inaccurately described the value of the company.
Staples, which went public in 1989, was worth $264.4 million on June 26, 1991, the first day of Romney’s testimony.
Three months later, the stock price had climbed 26 percent to push its market value to $334.28 million on September 26, 1991. A year after Romney’s testimony, Staples was worth $507.1 million.
Tom Stemberg, who spoke in support of Romney at the Republican National Convention in Orlando in August, was not present for court proceedings.
Sullivan Stemberg was present, but in two days only responded “I do” to the judge when she was asked to swear to speak truthfully. Allred told reporters after the hearing that the confidentiality terms surrounding the divorce made it all but impossible for Sullivan Stemberg to comment.
“It’s the most comprehensive gag order I have ever seen in my 36 years of practicing law,” Allred said. “She apparently is the only person in the United States of America, maybe the world, who cannot speak about Governor Romney.”
Editing by Mary Milliken and David Storey