A judge asked media and the public to leave the courtroom for attorneys’ opening statements Monday as the divorce trial began for Oklahoma City oilman Harold Hamm and his wife, Sue Ann.
“There’s no sense destroying a company over a divorce trial,” said Judge Howard Haralson.
The judge expressed particular concern that disclosure of confidential information could harm publicly traded Continental Resources, where Harold Hamm is chairman and majority shareholder.
Not everything in the divorce trial will be closed — just those portions of the trial that concern proprietary business information, Haralson said.
“I sure don’t believe in things being done behind closed doors,” the judge said.
Before the media and the public were asked to leave, attorneys made it clear that much of the divorce battle is expected to be over the quantity of Continental’s oil reserves that are still in the ground and how the value of those reserves should be divvied up between the couple.
“It’s all about the reserves,” said Tulsa attorney Robert Bartz, who represents Sue Ann Hamm. “It’s the subject matter of the trial.”
Eric Eissenstat, general counsel for Continental Resources, read off a long list of anticipated court exhibits that he said contain proprietary information. The judge said he had set aside eight weeks for the trial.
Board minutes, corporate strategies, confidential emails, reserve information and statements made during depositions are among the items Eissenstat argued should be discussed behind closed courtroom doors.
Competitors would love to have that information, he told the judge.
Eissenstat asked the judge to close the courtroom to all persons who have not signed confidentiality agreements when those exhibits are discussed.
He also urged the judge to close the courtroom for at least the portions of opening statements where attorneys were expected to discuss confidential documents and put their interpretation on what they mean.
The case could result in the largest-ever divorce judgment.
Forbes lists Harold Hamm No. 36 on its list of the world’s richest people with an estimated net worth of $19.4 billion. Much of his wealth is in a 68 percent stake he controls of Continental Resources stock.
He founded the company in 1967. Sue Ann Hamm was an attorney for Elliott & Lee when they were married in 1988. She later worked as manager of gas marketing for Continental Resources.
At Continental’s initial public offering in May 2007, Harold Hamm’s stake was worth more than $2 billion. The stock price has since ballooned 894 percent.
CORRECTION: The employment for Sue Ann Hamm at the time of her marriage was incorrect in this story. Sue Ann Hamm was an attorney for Elliott & Lee when she married Harold Hamm in 1988 and she later worked as manager of gas marketing for Continental Resources. (This story has been corrected.)