Politics & Government

Judge 'disturbed' that sealed files in David Williams' divorce case had been opened

State Senate President David Williams
State Senate President David Williams

BURKESVILLE — A circuit judge in Cumberland County unsealed documents in state Senate President David Williams' divorce case this week and said he was "deeply disturbed" that the files had been opened repeatedly.

There are no allegations of impropriety against Williams in a 2003 deposition and related tax returns that had been sealed.

The files confirm details about Williams' gambling winnings and losses from 1999 to 2002, but that isn't likely to hurt Williams in his quest for the Republican nomination for governor in Tuesday's primary election. Williams has long acknowledged he used to gamble at casinos, and there had been stories earlier in the race about gambling losses cited in parts of the divorce file that had been open.

In his order unsealing the documents, Circuit Judge Eddie Lovelace indicated he was not pleased with how the files had been handled by the court system.

"This Court was deeply disturbed over the fact that it was very evident that both documents had been opened on plural occasions as the tape sealing the documents had been altered," Lovelace wrote. "This Court does not know whether documents have been removed, added to or changed in some manner."

Lovelace said he couldn't assign fault to anyone, but he noted the situation "seriously impugns the integrity of the court system and is an affront to the orderly administration of justice."

Another oddity is that a deposition from Williams' ex-wife, Elaine, was not made available to reporters who asked to see the divorce file in March and April, but Lovelace's order says the document was never sealed.

The deposition was available in the file this week.

David Williams said he did not know why his ex-wife's deposition had not been available earlier and that he "absolutely had nothing to do with tampering of the seal" on his deposition.

The records are kept locked in the circuit clerk's office, he said.

"I never saw it after it was sealed in the first place," he said of his deposition.

Cumberland Circuit Clerk Nancy Brewington said no one in her office unsealed the closed records. Brewington said she believed the files were unsealed at the state Court of Appeals.

Williams filed for divorce from his first wife, Elaine, who was then an assistant school superintendent, in 2001 after 25 years of marriage. The marriage was dissolved in 2003 and David Williams remarried about two months later.

Williams and his ex-wife, who also has remarried, continued contesting financial issues for several years before finally settling the case last year.

Williams had said earlier there was nothing embarrassing to him in the sealed files.

In her deposition, his ex-wife called him a good attorney and a generous man.

"Anytime I went shopping, he handed out money, very generous," Elaine Williams Webb said in 2003.

For his part, David Williams described his wife as a respected educator and a good person.

"Our marriage did not work out, but she's a fine, professional person. She's a good person," he said in the 2003 statement.

Williams said he never objected to the sealed parts of his divorce file being opened, but he wanted to respect his ex-wife's wish to keep part of the record sealed.

An attorney for Williams' ex-wife objected after the The (Louisville) Courier-Journal asked to have the sealed files opened. The attorney, Danny Butler, said Elaine Williams Webb is a private person who has moved on with her life.

An attorney for Williams also verbally objected to having the files opened, but he did not follow up with written arguments.

Lovelace's order came in response to the newspaper's motion.

The Herald-Leader reported in early April that documents in the divorce showed Williams claimed gambling losses of $36,147 in the four-year period from 1999 to 2002.

Williams had to have won more than that in order to claim the losses.

The files Lovelace ordered opened add some detail.

For instance, Williams' 1999 tax return showed income of $20,043 from nine casinos along Kentucky's border and elsewhere, including New Orleans and Kansas City, and Churchill Downs.

He claimed total losses that year of $17,889.

At the Caesar's riverboat near Louisville, Williams won $10,980 in 1999 but lost $13,161, according to records in the tax file.

There was no information available in the divorce file about Williams' gambling past 2002 because the divorce was finalized the next year.

However, Williams told the Herald-Leader recently he has not been to a casino in more than two years because he didn't like the industry's tactics in pushing for expanded gambling in Kentucky and didn't want to contribute to its bottom line.

Williams has been the leading opponent of expanded gambling in Kentucky, which the horse industry has sought for more than a decade.

Williams claimed gross income of $239,288 in 1997, according to his deposition. It was his best year ever, Williams said. Much of that came from a $166,000 fee he got in one case.

Williams' gross income in 2002, after he'd taken over as Senate president, was $72,512, according to his deposition.

Williams said his legislative duties took significant time away from his law practice.