Newly released court records show the ex-wife of powerful Illinois State Sen. Michael Hastings accused him last year of elbowing her in the face in the presence of their small children and harassing, intimidating and threatening her in a series of text messages during their highly contentious divorce.
The accusations surfaced publicly this week in Will County divorce court files unsealed at the request of WBEZ — over the repeated objections from lawyers for Hastings, a veteran Democratic lawmaker from the south suburbs.
Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker called for Hastings to resign last month. That was after reports revealed Hastings’s then-wife told police he had physically assaulted her at their home in Frankfort in 2020.
The unsealed divorce files provide more details about the alleged 2020 incident — which the state senator has denied — and also contain complaints of domestic violence and verbal abuse that had not been publicly known until now.
Hastings, 42, resigned from the Senate Democratic leadership team in August, but he has continued running for another term in the Nov. 8 election against Republican challenger Patrick Sheehan.
The divorce was among a series of personal and professional issues facing Hastings, who was first elected to the Illinois Senate a decade ago and had been angling for statewide office.
Last month, WBEZ reported that Illinois taxpayers spent nearly $150,000 on a settlement and outside legal costs in a civil discrimination case filed against Hastings and the Illinois Senate by the lawmaker’s former top aide.
And a veteran environmental lobbyist told WBEZ that Hastings yelled at her, pounded his hands on a table in a meeting and approached her in a menacing manner amid policy disagreements in Springfield in the past five years.
The lobbyist, Jen Walling, said she would no longer lobby him, even as Hastings has remained chairman of the Illinois Senate’s important Energy and Public Utilities Committee. Hastings’s spokesman last month said Walling was “not being honest.”
Hastings has not been charged with any crime, and in a statement Wednesday, his spokesman Ray Hanania said the senator denied all the accusations in the divorce case.
“Sen. Michael Hastings has been on the receiving end of every type of personal and political attack and misrepresentation throughout this divorce, and each of the accusations are inherently false and just not true,” Hanania told WBEZ. “To use a family’s divorce in a political manner as it has been, to influence an election, is reprehensible.
“Sen. Hastings continues to work tirelessly for his constituents throughout the South suburbs and will continue to defend his family and reputation from these baseless personal and political attacks.”
Lawyers for Hastings’s ex-wife did not return messages.
‘Michael cannot control his anger in front of the children’
Hastings had managed to keep his divorce out of public view for more than a year. Hastings filed for divorce on June 21, 2021. Will County Circuit Court Judge Derek Ewanic agreed to the senator’s emergency motion to seal the whole court file the following month.
The day before Hastings filed for divorce, Frankfort police say his wife Kathleen called officers because of a “verbal altercation.”
She also told an officer that in November 2020, “Michael battered her, by placing her in a chokehold/neck restraint, and slammed her body into a door multiple times,” according to a copy of the police report obtained by WBEZ.
In the newly unsealed divorce files, Kathleen Hastings provided further details regarding that alleged incident two years ago. Her lawyer wrote that Michael Hastings “slammed Kate’s head against the door leading to the garage multiple times and put her in a choke hold — all because she asked Mike where he was working that day,” according to a filing in the divorce case in October 2021.
Kathleen Hastings alleged the assault took place at about 7 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2020, “in front of” one of their children and woke up their other child, according to the filing.
“Not wishing to disrupt Mike’s political and social image, and frankly not knowing what to do, Kate did not report the abuse to the authorities at the time,” wrote Kathleen Hastings’s lawyer Brett Buckley.
In the same court filing, Kathleen Hastings alleged that “Michael cannot control his anger in front of the children,” and the lawyer wrote that the senator “elbowed Kate in the face in front of the children.”
She also alleged that her then-husband repeatedly used profane, misogynistic words “in front of the minor children” in the months after she called police on him and the divorce case was filed.
‘You know exactly what you have to do’
During the course of the divorce proceedings, Kathleen Hastings also repeatedly complained to the court that Michael Hastings was harassing and intimidating her in messages sent on an app intended for communication about issues concerning the children.
“Mike has abused the use of Our Family Wizard and used it as a tool to harass, intimidate and threaten Kate,” her lawyer wrote.
As an exhibit to the filing, the lawyer for Kathleen Hastings attached messages from the senator, including messages sent to her before she was going to be deposed in the divorce case.
In one “unsolicited message” from May 2022, Michael Hastings allegedly wrote, “Think long and hard about the future of our children and our ability to co-parent as you head in [sic] tomorrow’s deposition … It’s sad it’s come down to this, but you have the ability to fix this situation, and you know exactly what you have to do.”
Michael Hastings countered that his wife was at fault for their split by having an affair, which his lawyers described in one filing in the case as “an unforeseen activity that completely blindsided Michael.”
In May, the senator accused Kathleen Hastings of trying to harass and embarrass him when her lawyers sent a subpoena to Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park.
The lawyers for Michael Hastings argued the subpoena should be quashed by the judge because Harmon is “not his boss.” Kathleen Hastings withdrew the subpoena two days before Harmon was scheduled to testify at her lawyers’ office.
On Thursday, after this story was published, Harmon said in a statement that the situation surrounding Hastings was “under review.”
“There have been a series of troubling elements brought to light by Senator Hastings’ ongoing personal divorce case,” Harmon said. “Accusations of domestic violence are to be taken seriously. I took immediate action to remove him from Senate leadership given the circumstances.”
The court squabbling between the couple extended to money, with lawyers for Kathleen Hastings repeatedly asking for — and complaining that they could not get — documents pertaining to a business owned by Michael Hastings called Geld Solutions LLC.
Citing tax returns, the lawyers said Michael Hastings took a “consulting deduction” of nearly $109,000 involving Geld Solutions in 2020. The tax returns were not available in the public court file.
State records show Hastings formed Geld Solutions in 2019 and shut it down amid the divorce proceedings in January. He did not list the company on statements of economic interest that lawmakers and other elected officials must file annually to disclose outside sources of income.
Asked about Geld Solutions this week, Hastings’s spokesman did not explain what work the company did, but said, “Everything was done by the book.”
But on Thursday, Harmon said he asked his staff to “reach out to Sen. Hastings regarding his ethical disclosure filings and to recommend he update them if needed.”
Harmon added, “At first glance, it appears this situation may very well highlight how ineffective the previous forms were and why Illinois Senate Democrats led efforts to update them and make them relevant.”
WBEZ’s legal battle to unseal the case
The divorce case ended in a settlement on Sept. 19. Eight days later, lawyers for WBEZ filed a motion asking that the court unseal the case files, noting that divorce and other case documents typically are public records.
Lawyers for the senator attempted to keep the divorce sealed. Last year, in getting the file sealed, they argued that allowing the case documents to be a public record “has the potential to inappropriately damage his personal and professional reputation in the community.”
After WBEZ’s request for the case files, the lawyers for Sen. Hastings also argued that disclosure of such details could bring harm to his family. They said a plane flew over one of his children’s soccer games earlier this month with a banner.
A video of the plane in flight shows the banner read, “GOV JB TELLS SEN HASTINGS RESIGN FOR ABUSE.”
WBEZ lawyers Steven Mandell and Brian Saucier argued that the court file should be opened “to allow for appropriate public review and scrutiny.” They noted that Hastings said he wanted to protect his family’s privacy, even as his reelection campaign issued an ad featuring a photo of the senator with his children, describing him as a “single parent.”
“The courts are public places,” the attorneys for the station wrote. “Litigants may not seek the assistance of the court system and then try to cloak their actions with secrecy to avoid public scrutiny or embarrassment.”
Will County Judge Elizabeth Hoskins Dow sided with WBEZ in a ruling last week, writing that “the right of public access to court records and proceedings is well established.” She ordered the entire, 1,400-page file to be unsealed Monday.
“While there are documents containing unflattering allegations about one or another of the children’s parents, there is no material information that would pose a threat to any of the minor children and much of the information about the children that is in the record appears to already be in the public domain, including through [Sen. Hastings’s] own political campaign website,” the judge concluded.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos