A judge ordered the release of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais' divorce trial transcript on Monday, but attorneys said it's unlikely that 4th Congressional District voters will see its contents before polls close today.
The freshman Republican lawmaker spent several hours of election eve holed up at the Hamilton County Courthouse as attorneys haggled over what should be public and what shouldn't from DesJarlais' explosive divorce case settled more than a decade ago.
Democrats gained little new ground Monday, despite an 11th-hour effort designed to expose what the state party referred to as specific details of DesJarlais' infidelity and alleged professional misconduct as a doctor. No new records were made readily available, though weeks-old allegations against the Jasper congressman still stand uncontested aside from vague denials.
Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Bolton decided to have the divorce trial transcript released, but sided with DesJarlais' attorney, Harvey Cameron, in deciding that the entire transcript should be properly transcribed before any part of it is considered public record. The transcript is more than 600 pages long and only partially translated from a Marion County court reporter's original shorthand.
Democrats described the DesJarlais camp's efforts as "stalling," saying their best-case scenario was getting the full transcript from the court reporter late Monday night.
"If I were a doctor who had sex with his patients and two of those patients gave testimony at a hearing, I wouldn't want that transcript to come out, especially before my election," said Brandon Puttbrese, a Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman.
The party's attorney, Gerard Stranch, contends that the divorce trial transcript includes detailed evidence that DesJarlais had extramarital affairs with his patients and tried to persuade one to get an abortion, two accusations the pro-life DesJarlais has not denied.
"It's an election year, and just as you said -- allegations," DesJarlais said Monday as reporters questioned him outside the courthouse.
DesJarlais had several opportunities to address the high-profile allegations, but mostly ignored queries from reporters as he walked to his car. Hours after leaving with Cameron, DesJarlais released a statement that denounced "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.
The statement also said 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.
The divorce was settled in 2001.
DesJarlais' ex-wife, Susan Feltman, was not present during the proceedings, but her attorney, Michael Galligan, said Monday that Feltman felt DesJarlais had "misled the public in nearly everything" and "abused his power in a small community."
While Galligan argued that any documentation involving the couple's child should remain sealed, he said Feltman believed the court transcript was a matter of public record and wanted it made available.
"[Feltman] would have rather not come forward for the sake of her child, but since it's all out there, she feels this is the time to state that she believes the deceit should end," Galligan said. "She feels threatened in many ways."
Galligan said Monday that, based on records in the divorce file, Feltman believes the patient DesJarlais pressured to have an abortion was indeed pregnant at the time.
DesJarlais has contended that the woman was never pregnant and that he was using "strong language" to make her to tell the truth.
Cameron said the Democrats' attempts to obtain the documents amounted to a "political farce," and told reporters that the chancellor overseeing the DesJarlais divorce found "both parties at fault."
The Huffington Post broke the first story about a patient with whom DesJarlais had an affair and pressed to have an abortion. In late October, a second woman told the Chattanooga Times Free Press she smoked marijuana with DesJarlais and that he prescribed pain medication for her on dates.
DesJarlais acknowledged the first relationship and hasn't disputed details of the second one.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at email@example.com or 423-757-6610.