At the time newly appointed U.S. Attorney Bill Killian applied to be one of the state’s top federal prosecutors, he was arguing in court to reduce or end alimony payments to his ex-wife because he said a 2009 diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease had and would hurt his ability to work.
Now Killian, 61, says he’s not sure if the tremor in his right hand is Parkinson’s disease, and he said his condition is improving.
“It only affected my work as a trial attorney, not in any other aspect of practicing law, if I was required to take notes for long periods of time,” Killian said Thursday. “It does not impair me at all doing the U.S. attorney’s job. I am working about 14 hours today, and I assure you, if I had Parkinson’s, I couldn’t do it.”
A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals opinion says what Killian described as a “neurological disorder” was not advanced enough to hamper his earning potential and warrant a decrease in alimony payments, which had been at least $4,000 a month since 2005.
“[Killian] argues that Parkinson’s disease ‘adversely affects his ability to earn a living,’” the opinion states. “It is significant that [Killian] was not diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease until January 2009. ... It is also relevant that, at the time of the hearing, [Killian] had applied for the position of United States Attorney and testified that he thought he could perform that job.”
The appeals court ruling filed Oct. 5 affirmed a Marion County Chancery Court’s ruling denying his petition to reduce or terminate his alimony obligation and awarding his ex-wife attorney fees.
Killian said Thursday that, since his initial diagnosis in 2009, two doctors have said he does not have Parkinson’s disease but showed signs of parkinsonism. The Mayo Clinic describes parkinsonism on its website as “any condition that causes a combination of movement abnormalities.”
He said he is seeing a fourth doctor next week at Duke University.
“Not everyone who has parkinsonism has Parkinson’s disease,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “No definitive tests exist for parkinsonism or Parkinson’s disease.”
Killian was nominated as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee in May 2010 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate last week.
He did not appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for questioning before his confirmation, but Killian did submit a questionnaire about his work history and background. The public documents linked to his appointment do not include medical history.
Since Killian’s 2005 divorce from Becky Killian, his wife of 31 years, his private law practice in Jasper has lost money, according to the opinion. But the decrease from his annual adjusted gross income of $147,713 was not significant enough to prompt an alimony reduction, the court stated.
The court also questioned Killian’s claim of facing increasing debt.
In 2008, records show Killian made political contributions of more than $5,000 and gave a $4,000 gift to a fraternity.
“[He] took several expensive vacations, dined at numerous expensive restaurants, [spending] at least $4,800, and bought a new car,” the opinion read.
Becky Killian, who had two children with Killian and lives in South Pittsburg, said she “knows for a fact” that Killian has Parkinson’s.
“I have been through doctors’ medical depositions with him. It is absolutely proof positive,” she said.
Still, she said she doesn’t believe it’s advanced enough to affect him in his new job.
“I think he can do the job perfectly,” Becky Killian said. “He was only trying to use that to get out of paying the alimony. ... I think he was trying to use that saying that he couldn’t work, but the whole while he was seeking this position.”
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...