Alaska News

Judge orders records opened in Palin custody case

The custody dispute between Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin over their now 1-year-old son Tripp is playing out in court, and despite Palin's efforts to keep the case confidential, a judge last week opened it to the public.

Palin filed a petition for full legal and physical custody Nov. 4. She argued that she and her family provided almost all of the care anyway and asserted that "Levi is not yet mature enough to take on significant parental responsibilities." She also is seeking court-ordered child support.

But Johnston says he wants to share custody of his son and do what he can for Tripp, and Bristol. There's no evidence either of the young parents is unfit, his lawyer, Rex Butler, wrote in a court filing.

This is an unusual custody case because Bristol Palin is the teenage daughter and Tripp is the grandson of former Gov. Sarah Palin. She and Johnston broke up not long after their son was born. He turned 1 on Sunday. Her pregnancy, announced shortly after her mother was chosen to be the vice presidential running mate of Sen. John McCain, received massive media attention. The parents are both now 19.

Bristol Palin sought to have the case sealed from the public, arguing that would be in Tripp's best interest. She asked for a gag order so no one could talk about it. She wanted all filings to be under the pseudonyms Jane and John Doe.

One of her lawyers, Thomas Van Flein, pointed out that proceedings were closed in custody disputes involving some other famous people: Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, and Britney Spears and Kevin Federline.

"This is a routine matter, but the parties' respective celebrity status mandates the protection of the baby ... whose privacy interests should be protected until and unless one day the child decides otherwise," Van Flein wrote.

Johnston fought to allow the custody matter to unfold in public, saying in a sworn statement that doing so would help put everyone on best behavior. He noted that Van Flein also represents Sarah Palin.

"I know that public scrutiny will simplify this matter and act as a check against anyone's need to be overly vindictive, aggressive or malicious, not that Bristol would ever be that way, nor that I would. But her mother is powerful, politically ambitious and has a reputation for being extremely vindictive," Johnston said in his affidavit. "So, I think a public case might go a long way in reducing Sarah Palin's instinct to attack."

Johnston said he didn't want to hurt or embarrass his son -- or Bristol. He thinks Sarah Palin, not Bristol, is acting with "sheer malice," Butler wrote in a court filing.

"He feels Sarah Palin, through her lawyer, under the guise of Bristol Palin's name, would run roughshod over his very bones," Butler wrote.

Bristol Palin responded in a sworn statement that Johnston's assertions and fears about vindictiveness and meddling are off base.

"None of this is true; my mother is not involved in this case," except as a grandmother, she said in her statement.

Johnston only wanted the spectacle of a public custody dispute "for his own self-promotion," Bristol Palin asserted. She said she believes he will soon be filming a reality TV show in Alaska and doesn't think it would be good for Tripp for that to happen during the custody fight. But Butler said nothing has been firmed up about a reality show and that Johnston's priority is his custody quest.

Alaska Superior Court Judge Kari Kristiansen of Palmer ruled on Dec. 23 that Bristol Palin hadn't provided any evidence that Tripp would be harmed by the anticipated publicity. She ordered all the sealed records opened.

In addition, Sharon Gleason, presiding judge for the judicial district, ruled against Bristol Palin's request to use pseudonyms.

Find Lisa Demer online at or call 257-4390.

PDF: Johnston answer to custody petition

PDF: Palin motion to close proceedings and use pseudonyms

PDF: Johnston opposition to close proceedings and use pseudonyms

PDF: Palin response to close proceedings

PDF: Bristol Palin affidavit

PDF: Johnston-Butler affidavits

PDF: Judges' orders


Lisa Demer

Lisa Demer was a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Dispatch News. Among her many assignments, she spent three years based in Bethel as the newspaper's western Alaska correspondent. She left the ADN in 2018.