A Hamilton County judge has decided not to unseal certain records in the 10-year-old divorce file of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., but is still reviewing previously unavailable court transcripts in the case to determine whether they will be released later today.
Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Bolton decided this morning that the sealed records — which chiefly pertain to child custody issues — “have absolutely no relevance” to the Tennessee Democratic Party's assertion that the records should be released because they show evidence of DesJarlais’ extramarital affairs and alleged professional misconduct.
DesJarlais spent the morning in court, the day before voters in the Fourth Congressional District will decide whether to return him to Congress.
In a statement, the Republican said the only reason he was in Chattanooga today “was to protect my children from these desperate attacks being driven by the Tennessee Democratic Party, Lincoln Davis and my ex-wife.”
DesJarlais defeated Davis, a longtime Democrat representative, in 2010.
He also said his current opponent, Democratic state Rep. Eric Stewart, and his supporters have tried to make the campaign about “ everything besides my record in Congress. In fact, it seems that the only opponent that I have ever had to run against is a 14-year-old divorce.”
Desjarlais said Tuesday’s outcome will show voters are weary of “gutter politics” and want a representative who supports job growth, spending cuts and debt reduction.
During this morning’s hearing, Democratic Party attorney Gerard Stranch argued that other records — including trial transcripts, pre-trial briefs and witness lists — should not be under seal but were not included in DesJarlais' divorce file in Marion County courts.
Bolton is expected to announce this afternoon whether the transcripts will be made publicly available today — the day before voters decide whether DesJarlais will retain his 4th Congressional District seat.
Stranch said from the beginning that the party isn’t interested in records pertaining to DesJarlais’ children, but said sealed records in the file confirm that DesJarlais had affairs with multiple patients, was prescribing pills for sex and revealed the congressman as a "serial philanderer" at the time of his divorce.
DesJarlais was present at today’s hearing, but refused to discuss the overall case, saying, "It's an election year, and just as you said — allegations."
His attorney, Harvey Cameron, said the Democrats' efforts to gain the records amounted to a "political farce."
DesJarlais' ex-wife, Susan Feltman, was not present, but her attorney Mike Galligan, who was at the hearing, said DesJarlais had "deceived the public on multiple levels" and that Feltman was ready "for the lies to end."
Galligan said that, while Feltman wants any information involving the couple's child to remain sealed, she believes the court transcripts and witness lists are public records and should not be missing from the file.
The hearing springs from reports that the physician-turned-congressman dated patients and pressed one woman with whom he was sexually involved to get an abortion. DesJarlais, who has touted himself as an anti-abortion advocate, has contended that the patient was never pregnant and that he was using "strong language" to make her to tell the truth.
Galligan said today that, based on records in the divorce file, Feltman believes the patient was indeed pregnant.
The reports have galvanized DesJarlais' opponent, Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart of Winchester. Many analysts consider Tuesday's 4th Congressional District match-up the only close race among Tennessee's nine U.S. House seats.
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...