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Court Shields Warnock From Scrutiny in Messy Custody Battle

Rev. Raphael Warnock
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.) / Getty Images
• June 2, 2022 11:40 am

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A Georgia judge last month barred the public from attending a hearing in Sen. Raphael Warnock's (D., Ga.) custody dispute, a sign that the court will take steps to shield Warnock from media scrutiny in his increasingly messy domestic battle with his ex-wife.

Fulton Superior Court judge Shermela Williams, who was a registered Democrat before winning her seat in a nonpartisan 2020 judicial election, held the closed-door hearing on May 16 for Warnock and his ex-wife Oulèye Ndoye, a representative for the court told the Washington Free Beacon. Williams late last month also sealed an order in the case that detailed the former couple's temporary custody agreement.

The judge's decisions are a political victory for Warnock, who in an April joint filing with his ex-wife asked the court to seal the case, arguing the publicity could hurt his campaign for reelection. The custody case has been contentious, with Ndoye accusing Warnock of "harassing" her and neglecting their children and Warnock seeking to subpoena her college records.

In the April filing, Warnock said his opponents could use the "public records in order to gain some political advantage or gain," as he fights to hold his seat in one of the most hotly contested races of the midterm elections.

The argument appears to have resonated with Williams, who as of 2008 was a registered Democrat in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, according to voter records. The local affiliate of the AFL-CIO, a labor group aligned with the Democratic Party, also endorsed her judicial campaign in 2020. Georgia does not allow voters to register with a party affiliation, and the state's superior court races are nonpartisan.

Williams faced criticism in May for delaying the execution of convicted murderer and child rapist Virgil Delano Presnell Jr. over the objections of the victims' families. Presnell has been on death row for decades for killing an 8-year-old girl and raping her 10-year-old friend in 1976.

Ndoye in February petitioned the court for a revised custody agreement, saying Warnock neglected his scheduled visitation days with their two young children and left her "financially strapped" by failing to reimburse her for child-care expenses. She is asking the court to allow her to move the children out of state so that she can attend a program at Harvard.

Warnock in a May 11 filing denied Ndoye's allegations and requested primary custody of the children. The couple split in 2020 after four years of marriage.

After their divorce, Ndoye accused Warnock of intentionally running over her foot with his Tesla during an argument. He denied the charge.

Warnock is running against Republican Herschel Walker, a former NFL star, in a race that could determine party control of the U.S. Senate.