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Cook County judge orders lawsuit against Rauner ‘made open to the public’

Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, in September of 2017. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times. Harreld “Kip” Kirkpatrick III, right. File Photo. | From You Tube.

A Cook County judge on Friday ordered the unsealing of a lawsuit filed against Gov. Bruce Rauner by a former business partner.

But there’s still a chance the case will be dismissed entirely.

The suit against Rauner — who ran a private equity firm before becoming governor — was filed Oct. 5. by Harreld “Kip” Kirkpatrick III and the Kirkpatrick Capital Partners Fund, according to Cook County Circuit Court records.

Kirkpatrick — who ran for state treasurer as a Democrat in 2009 — is a former Northwestern University basketball star and co-CEO of the Vistria Group, a private-equity firm co-founded with longtime former President Barack Obama friend Marty Nesbitt. He said the lawsuit was filed as a “result of a dispute with a former partner” — namely Rauner, according to a memo that Kirkpatrick sent to Vistria employees.

At the heart of Kirkpatrick’s suit against Rauner is a settlement tied to a separate Michigan lawsuit involving what is now United Shore Financial Services.

Friday marked the first public airing of any detail on the specifics of the suit.

Reporters were asked to leave Cook County Judge David B. Atkins’ courtroom for about 10 minutes on Friday as lawyers presented oral arguments. Atkins soon after ruled that he’ll decide whether or not to dismiss the case within a “few days.” He also ordered that the case “not be sealed and be made open to the public.”

“Going forward, all pleadings shall be filed publicly,” Atkins wrote in a court order.

Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb represented Kirkpatrick during oral arguments on Friday. Webb argued that there was a clause in a settlement agreement that allowed a Cook County judge to hear details of the case before it could head to an arbitration panel. Rauner’s attorneys are seeking to dismiss the case. But Webb argued that dismissing it would go against legal language in the settlement.

The complaint against Rauner and three exhibits filed in the matter all remain under seal at the Daley Center on Friday.

Kirkpatrick told his employees that the legal fight with Rauner stemmed from an unspecified “prior endeavor” before he helped form the Vistria Group, and that the Vistria Group “is in no way associated with this litigation.”

Rauner disclosed a “partnership interest” in Kirkpatrick Partners Capital Fund I LP in the statement of financial interests for 2016 that he filed with the Illinois secretary of state in April.

That business venture was formed in June 2011 in Delaware, public records show.

Although his attorneys in court have fought to keep the case sealed, Rauner in October denied that he’s trying to keep the suit under wraps. He declined further comment on the suit.

“To be clear, all my investments are in a trust that I don’t control. I did that when I became governor. I can’t comment on any business disputes. That gets settled in its own process,” Rauner said.