A judge overseeing Prince’s mammoth estate ordered Monday that the affidavits from people claiming to be his heirs — and the special administrator’s responses to them — be sealed until further notice.
Carver County Judge Kevin Eide issued the order without a public hearing just a week before he’s scheduled to hear arguments over the genetic testing protocols that have been established by Bremer Trust, the special administrator, for determining “heirship” to the estate, which has been valued at $100 million to $300 million.
The attorneys for one of the potential heirs filed an objection to Eide’s May 18 order approving the protocols, which will be considered at a June 27 hearing.
Bremer Trust and several parties to the case have objected to requests by news organizations, including the Star Tribune, for audiovisual coverage of the hearing.
At least one potential heir — an 11-year-old girl — and her aunt have asked that the hearing be closed to the public on all matters related to heirship.
Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago attorney representing the girl, said he doesn’t want the girl — identified in court papers only as V.Y.N. — to be publicly identified.
“The number of people out there that are harassing and haranguing my client and some of the other heirs is simply off the charts,” Stoltmann said.
He said some of the information likely to be discussed in court about the girl’s aunt and her purported relationship to Prince are of a “personal nature.”
Eide’s order sealed 11 affidavits that were filed by people claiming to be Prince’s heirs and four others filed to substantiate some of those claims.
Media seek access
“It is cause for concern any time a court decides to seal records that are presumptively public or to bar the public from observing court proceedings,” said Leita Walker, an attorney representing the Star Tribune.
“In this case in particular, it is hard to see how the privacy interests of individuals who have voluntarily inserted themselves into the probate proceeding outweigh the public’s right to know how the courts are handling the large estate of Minnesota’s most famous celebrity,” Walker said. “Media organizations here and across the country are watching this case carefully and are prepared to intervene if the access rights of the press or the public are infringed.”
Bremer Trust and its attorneys declined to comment. In court filings, they took no position on whether the hearing should be closed to the public, but they argued that audiovisual coverage of paternity issues “would not be appropriate.”
“No matter how the Court ultimately assesses the public interest in this probate proceeding, the Special Administrator requests that the Court also give due consideration to the desire of the family to not have their sensitive family histories and discussions regarding those histories broadcast to the world,” Bremer’s lawyers wrote.
Please, no ‘circus’
Stoltmann said that coverage of celebrity hearings such as O.J. Simpson’s trial on murder charges shows that “cameras in the courtroom often turn these proceedings into a glorified circus.”
The first Prince probate hearing drew dozens of reporters from the news media and trade press.
Prince’s family members and their attorneys had to be escorted by sheriff’s deputies through a media gantlet to their vehicles afterward.
Attorneys for other potential heirs who objected to audiovisual coverage could not be reached Monday.