Florida Judge Refuses to Seal Becker Divorce CaseBy Jane Sutton
MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida judge hearing Boris Becker's child custody and spousal support dispute ordered on Thursday that some documents in the case be sealed to protect the safety of the couple's sons and the confidentiality of the German tennis star's marketing agreements.
But Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Maynard Gross refused the three-time Wimbledon champion's request to seal all the documents and close the hearings to the public and the press.
Becker, wearing a pale blue shirt and tie and well-tailored dark gray suit, testified for two hours about the kidnapping threats he said were frequently made against his children, threats that he said increased whenever widespread publicity about him fired "the imagination of criminals and crazies."
"I am afraid for the lives of my children and of my wife," Becker said, testifying in German through an interpreter. "If I were an unknown, poor man, there would be nobody who would be kidnapping my children for ransom money."
Becker, 33, also said his promotional agreements with clients such as Mercedes automobiles, America Online and watchmaker TAG Heuer contained confidentiality provisions that would be breached if his financial records were made public as part of the divorce.
Becker's wife, Barbara Feltus Becker, 33, moved into the couple's $3 million vacation home on Miami's posh Fisher Island in December with their two sons, Noah, 6, and Elias, 16 months. She filed a petition for support and custody of the children in the Miami court and has claimed Becker abandoned her.
She did not file for divorce but Becker, who has blamed the breakup of their seven-year marriage on the pressure of being rich and famous, subsequently filed for divorce in Germany, where the couple were wed and where their sons were born.
Becker said three to five members of his security staff routinely guarded his family and that he had not told his wife of all the threats against them.
"THREATS A PRETEXT TO CLOSE HEARING"
Barbara Becker did not attend the hearing. In a testy exchange, her lawyer, Sam Burstyn, said the threats were merely a pretext to close the hearings "so that your image as Mercedes' spokesman would not be tarnished."
Burstyn said Becker also wanted his financial records sealed in order to keep them out of a dispute between Becker and Bavarian tax officials.
Gross said Becker and his lawyers failed to show the kidnapping threats were concrete enough to exempt the case from Florida law, which generally provides that court hearings and documents should be open to the public.
He noted that by Becker's own testimony, the last threat received in Florida occurred during a tennis tournament two years ago and that Becker had merely notified tournament officials without reporting the incident to police.
But Gross agreed to seal documents containing the Becker family's phone numbers and addresses, information on their children and schedules, and those pertaining to commercial trade secrets.
Gross scheduled a hearing for Monday to determine whether the Florida court has jurisdiction in the spousal support and child custody issues.
BECKER WANTS CASE HEARD IN GERMANY
Becker's lawyers said in court documents that the boys were taken from Germany without their father's permission and he testified on Thursday that his wife had enrolled the older boy in an American school against his wishes. His lawyers said that international agreements in The Hague require that child custody be determined in the jurisdiction where the children have resided, meaning in Germany.
They said the Florida petition should be thrown out and the case decided in Germany.
"This is a German case involving German participants and German children," one of his lawyers, Evan Marks, said.
Barbara Becker, a former model and actress, is the daughter of a former U.S. Army medical corps officer. The Florida judge issued an order last month preventing anyone from removing the Beckers' sons from Florida pending further ruling.
On the witness stand, Becker seemed contained and unemotional but during a recess in the trial, he relaxed enough to pat the protruding belly of a pregnant court employee and wished her "Good luck." Four armed policemen stood guard inside the courtroom during the hearing.
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