The divorce of American oil billionaire Harold Hamm and former lawyer Sue Ann Hamm has attracted lots of attention and gallons of ink, as media outlets around North America write and revel in every detail. An interesting aspect of the Hamm case is Ms. Hamm’s attempt to subpoena documents from New York author Gregory Zukerman, who penned the best-seller “The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters”, a book that focused on Harold Hamm, among others.
Ms. Hamm wanted Mr. Zuckerman to produce all audio and visual recordings, notes, emails, records, material, well valuations and all other documents in his possession relating to Harold Hamm or his company, Continental Resource Inc. in her quest to prove that the increase in value of Mr. Hamm’s massive holdings during their 22-year marriage was largely related to his skill, energy, and business acumen. Why would she want to prove that? Simply because if she can show the Court that her husband was responsible for his company’s huge growth, she will be entitled to one-half of the increased value.
Of course, it is in Mr. Hamm’s best interests to modestly suggest that market forces alone were responsible for the significant increase in the value of Continental Resources, and that is exactly the approach his lawyers are taking in their efforts to preserve their client’s assets for him, to the exclusion of his wife.
Unfortunately for Ms. Hamm, New York’s journalist “shield law”, enacted in 1970, prevented her from obtaining the documents she requested. New York Supreme Court Justice Donna Mills ruled that Ms. Hamm had not shown she had exhausted other avenues to obtain the material and absent this kind of evidence she could not breach the shield law. She also noted that Ms. Hamm wanted these documents to use them against her husband, either to impeach him in court or show that his position lacked credibility.
The Court accepted Mr. Zuckerman’s argument that the release of this information would turn him into a professional witness, rather than a journalist, a step that would impede his writing career and hs credibility with his journalistic sources.
For now, Ms. Hamm will need to explore alternative routes to obtain the documents, if she is to succeed in her claim to share in a large portion of her husband’s $20 billion dollar estate. I have no doubt that her clever legal team will prevail in this divorce battle.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang