Details of Prince's 2006 divorce will be made public, despite objections from his ex-wife and the special administrator overseeing his estate.
"The right of access to civil court documents is considered 'fundamental to a democratic state,' " Hennepin County District Judge Thomas Fraser wrote in a 17-page order unsealing the court file, which was published Monday.
Divorce files are generally public, though judges often will agree to seal them if both parties to the case agree and no one else objects. The Star Tribune moved to unseal the files from Prince's divorce from Manuela Testolini after the musician's accidental death from the painkiller fentanyl on April 21.
Prince married Testolini in 2001; they divorced five years later. At the time of his death, Prince apparently did not have a will, leaving the state to determine how his estate will be divided among his heirs.
The newspaper questioned whether some of the documents in the divorce file would shed light on why he was taking painkillers, any potential heirs, or the value of his estate at the time of their divorce.
Fraser wrote that although the public's right to inspect civil court filings is not absolute, Testolini failed to overcome the presumption of openness based on her fears that the 10-year-old paperwork would expose her to ridicule or threats.
"Ms. Testolini states that the sealed files have nothing to do with Mr. Nelson's death and its subsequent legal issues. If that proves to be true, information disclosed is unlikely to subject her to a higher level of unwanted public attention than she has already received," Fraser wrote. "Her marriage to Mr. [Prince Rogers] Nelson put her in the public eye; this is true regardless of information in the sealed documents."
Fraser noted that public attention is fixed on the investigation of Prince's death and on the probate proceedings in Carver County District Court.
Star Tribune attorney Leita Walker argued at an Aug. 4 hearing that common law and the First Amendment supported the request to unseal the documents. Testolini's attorney, Curtis Smith, argued that the Star Tribune should have asked for the documents to be unsealed at the time of the divorce. He added that Testolini, who now lives in California, was hounded by paparazzi shortly after Prince's death and worries that she could suffer more if the documents are made public.
Testolini and Bremer Trust, the special administrator managing Prince's estate, will have 30 days to publicly file motions seeking to seal particular information in the divorce filing. Otherwise, everything — with the exception of certain confidential details such as Social Security numbers — will be unsealed.
Fraser said that Minnesota case law has established that marriage is a civil contract involving three parties: two spouses and the state. The public has a duty to oversee the relationship.
"Star Tribune correctly states that this case is unique only in that it involves an international celebrity, and that it would be unfair to grant special privacy rights based solely on this. The presumption of public access to court files outweighs individual wishes for privacy," Fraser wrote.
Staff writer Dan Browning contributed to this report.