The XX Factor

Should the Palin Custody Case Have Remained Closed?

News hit today that there has been an ongoing custody battle between Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, and Levi Johnston, the shiftless father of their son Tripp. Bristol and the Palin family had tried to keep the case closed to the public, and the court record had previously used pseudonyms for the feuding couple. But Levi’s lawyers opposed the Palin gag order: “Simply put, this matter is public in nature, the courts are not refuges for the scions of the elite to obtain private dispensation of their legal matters because the public at large has an interest in the proceedings,” said Johnston’s lawyer Rex Butler.

Is it common in celebrity trials for proceedings to remain sealed? I don’t know about the precedent in Alaska, but Christie Brinkley’s philandering ex-husband, Peter Cook, tried to keep their nasty divorce trial private in New York State because he feared the couple’s children would be hurt by what came out during the proceedings-which is the same reasoning Bristol gave for wanting to keep her custody battle private. In the Brinkley/Cook case , Suffolk County Judge Mark Cohen wrote: “[O]pen courtrooms, in general and in divorce actions, may provide a basis for societal education…The required high burden of compelling reasons to close the courtroom has not been met.”

The judge in the Palin case refused to grant a gag order, so even if the case were private, Levi Johnston would run his mouth to the press about what went on whether the proceedings were public or not. However, I can’t imagine that this custody battle will hurt Sarah Palin’s image in the long run, no matter what comes out about her trying to keep Tripp from Levi Johnston. Her appeal is her relatability, and so many Americans can relate to messy divorces and crappy sons-in-law.

Photograph of Bristol, Sarah and Trig Palin and Levi Johnston by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.