CANTON, Mass (Reuters) - A Massachusetts state court judge delayed for a day a decision on whether to make public testimony that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave more than two decades ago in divorce proceedings involving the founder of the Staples Inc office products chain.
The testimony included a disputed June 1991 assessment by Romney of the value of Staples, according to a person who spoke with the founder’s ex-wife.
Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, the former wife of Staples founder Tom Stemberg, appeared at a court hearing in Canton, Massachusetts, outside Boston, to say she had no objection to making public Romney’s testimony in her divorce.
The testimony could become public less than two weeks before Romney faces incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.
The Boston Globe newspaper on October 15 asked the court to make the testimony public before the election. Its attorney, Jonathan Albano, argued in court on Wednesday that it was appropriate for the court to reassess the need to keep the records private now that Romney is seeking the presidency.
While there were no hints at Wednesday’s court hearing about the contents of the testimony, an independent film maker said he had been told by Sullivan Stemberg that Romney testified that her holdings in Staples were worth very little.
“She felt that he devalued the stock. And what really kind of proved it was that one minute it wasn’t worth anything at all and all of a sudden it was worth a whole lot,” according to Edmund Druilhet from Dragon-Lion Media, who interviewed Sullivan Stemberg in 2008 for a movie on her life that was never completed.
“He was stating for his best friend to save money in a divorce that the stock was worth very little,” Druilhet said in a phone interview.
Romney campaign officials did not directly address Druilhet’s assertion. His attorney raised no objection to the testimony being made public.
“From the governor’s perspective, the sooner we get at it, the better,” attorney Robert Jones said during the court proceedings.
Staples had been publicly traded for more than two years by the time Romney testified. The company had a $264.4 million market capitalization on June 26, 1991 - the first of two days of Romney’s testimony that the Globe is seeking to make public.
Over the next year, it nearly doubled in value, reaching $507.1 million by June 26, 1992, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Today Staples has a $7.72 billion market capitalization.
Sullivan Stemberg’s attorney, Gloria Allred, said her client supported making the testimony public.
“We have no objection to the motion by the Boston Globe, because we believe the people have a right to know what Mitt Romney’s testimony under oath was,” Allred told reporters before the hearing, at Norfolk Probate and Family Court.
Allred, a well known civil rights attorney, declined to discuss the contents of the testimony with reporters and declined to comment on Druilhet’s assertion.
Tom Stemberg, who spoke at the Republican National Convention in Orlando in August, was not present at the hearing. His attorney, Brian Leary, strongly objected to making public the testimony, contained in two inch-thick bundles of paper that Allred produced in court and another volume she said she had.
“This is not an issue involving Governor Romney,” Leary said in court of the former Massachusetts governor, whose private equity firm, Bain Capital, funded Staples’ launch. “This is a private divorce matter.”
Leary later declined to comment on Druilhet’s statements.
Assistant Judicial Case Manager Jennifer Ulwick, who denied Leary’s request to keep media out of the court proceeding, gave Leary, as well as attorneys for Romney and Staples, a day to review the testimony to see if it contained confidential information before deciding on whether to make it public.
She told the attorneys as well as Sullivan Stemberg not to discuss the case with the media prior to her ruling on whether to make the documents public.
An attorney for Staples asked for time to review the documents to ensure they contained no confidential information that would damage the office supply retailer’s business interests.
Leary described it as expert testimony on investment matters, while Allred said it was unclear whether it was limited to that.
Ulwick granted a request to have a television camera present for Thursday’s court session to rule on whether to make Romney’s testimony public.
The Globe and Staples declined further comment.
Allred donated $2,500 to the Obama campaign in September, according to the OpenSecrets.org, a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Martin Howell and Steve Orlofsky