Staples’s value may be issue in Romney’s testimony

A Massachusetts judge is holding a second hearing Thursday on whether to unseal testimony from Republican Mitt Romney in a business associate’s two-decades-old divorce case.

The Boston Globe has asked that the court lift a gag order and confidentiality agreement that prevents the parties in the 1988 divorce of Staples founder Tom Stemberg and his ex-wife Maureen Sullivan Stemberg from discussing testimony in the case.

On Wednesday, Romney attorney Robert Jones told the presiding judge in Canton, Mass. that his client has no problem with his testimony being unsealed. “This is a decades-old divorce case in which Mr. Romney provided testimony as to the value of a company,” Jones said. “He has no objection to letting the public see that testimony.”

The judge ordered a day’s continuance to allow the parties to review transcripts of Romney’s testimony. The Globe said it was seeking the release of the records based on a news tip about their contents.

Two people familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidentiality agreement say Sullivan Stemberg believes that Romney understated the future value of Staples, which could have lowered the settlement Stemberg paid. At the time, Romney was a leader at Bain Capital, a major early investor in Staples, and a member of the Staples board.

Romney told the divorce trial judge he believed the office supply company could go bankrupt at any time and the company’s stock, then estimated at $2 a share, was over-valued, according to media accounts when Sullivan Stemberg appealed the divorce settlement.

A year after the settlement, Staples went public, and its stock value soared to $19 a share. Bain Capital turned a $2.5 million investment into a $13 million profit. Romney’s decision to back the firm helped cement his reputation as a savvy investor.

The Romney campaign referred questions about the case to Jones.

Sullivan Stemberg declined to comment for this story. She went to court Wednesday accompanied by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who said the public deserves to know what a presidential candidate said in a court case.

In the divorce settlement, Sullivan Stemberg received 500,000 shares in the company, but missed out on the major profits enjoyed by her husband, Bain and other investors. She cashed in her shares before the company went public.

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Rachel Weiner · October 25, 2012