Why Reuters Wants Hamm Divorce Documents Unsealed

If Reuters News Agency is ever to get its hands on sealed trial transcripts and documents of the court-ordered closed divorce trial of Continental Resources founder Harold Hamm, it will have to rely on its case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Especially after Oklahoma county divorce court judge Harold Haralson made his ruling last Thursday morning that the case will remain closed not only to the public but to Reuters.

The news agency, in its filing to intervene and open the trial and unseal trial transcripts made what appeared to some to be a compelling argument to shine sunlight on what happened behind closed doors of the small basement courtroom in the Oklahoma County courthouse.

Attorney Michael Minnis, who filed the motion has a long experience and history in dealing with journalists’ challenges where they found darkness and closed doors in government.

His argument in the motion was simple.

“The public interest in news and information about Mr. Hamm and Continental is compelling,” he wrote. But Judge Haralson didn’t find it as compelling and after listening to arguments, pro and con, for 30 minutes, ruled against Reuters.

Minnis described Harold Hamm as a man whose wealth is estimated at $20 billion, as among the most important U.S. industrialists and public business figures of his generation.

“He has played a leading—if not the leading–role in the current U.S. energy boom and is widely credited for being among the first to use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling to extract oil from the Bakken rock formation. He is believed to own more oil underground than any other American.”

Minnis tried to make the case that the public interest should know the details of the impact the divorce could have on Continental Resources, the firm founded by Hamm in 1967.

“The division of marital assets in this matter appears may implicate Mr. Hamm’s shares in Continental, estimated to be worth $17 billion. If Mr. Hamm divests his shares to finance the settlement of the marital estate, his percent ownership of Continental will be similarly diminished. Continental’s shareholders, and indeed the U.S. oil industry, have an interest in knowing whether there may be a change in ownership within the company.”

Minnis obviously was aware of what was at the heart of the arguments being made by Sue Ann Hamm in asking for half of the wealth made by Harold Hamm in the 26 years they were married.

“This Court is being asked to determine what portion of the more than $23 billion of growth in Continental’s market capitalization during the Hamms’ marriage is active marital capital subject to division between the parties,” he wrote in attempting to convince Judge Haralson to open the transcripts and other documents.

“To that end, it has heard evidence about whether the company’s growth is atttibutable to Mr. Hamm’s personal leadership, accomplishments and business acumen, or whether other factors, such as market conditions, are the source.”

And as OKEnergyToday has reported, that has been the focus of the testimony made by witnesses in the several week-long trial. Minnis noted that in the past, Continental Energy pointed to Harold Hamm’s business experience and knowledge and skills in making the company a massive success. But in the divorce trial, it was a different story with the company and Hamm’s supporters arguing he became wealthy because of the market—increased oil prices. In other words, a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Judge Haralson will have to make the decision. And it will be a huge one for him to make, one that has the potential to obviously affect Wall Street and the oil and gas industry, not to mention those who work for Continental Resources and its headquarters in downtown Oklahoma City.

But then, that is also the reason Haralson said he closed the trial and records because of the impact it could have on the third party, Continental Resources.


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