Heart of the Matter: Digging up Desjarlais' Divorce

6:10 PM, Oct 8, 2010   |    comments
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In his latest political spot, Democrat and incumbent Congressman Lincoln Davis digs into the Marion County Courthouse in Downtown Jasper, Tennessee.

That's his opponent, Scott Desjarlais' hometown and the location of a Chancery Court filing that documents Desjarlais divorce from his first wife.  A legal case that started in December 1998.

As part of our on-going Heart of the Matter series, we dug into the television spot and separated the fact from the fiction.

"Court documents reveal Desjarlais has a history of attacks, violent and threatening behavior toward his first wife," the advertisement says.

That claim is a stretch.

Public records show a messy, nearly decade long divorce and child custody battle that includes criminal allegations made by both Dr. Scott Desjarlais and his former wife.

However, Marion County's Sheriff says they have no record of Desjarlais ever being arrested or charged with any criminal activity.

The ad goes on to say, "Firing an unloaded gun outside her bedroom door, putting the gun in his own mouth for three hours."

Those claims aren't the whole story.

Dejarlais first wife claimed he did those things in a Chancery Court document filed in November 2000.

However, as Knoxville attorney Dennis Francis says, those allegations are just that, allegations.  In this case, we were unable to find a ruling or any evidence there was ever an investigation into Desjarlais' former wife's claims.

Desjarlais' campaign says they're simply not true and that court documents back up their claims.

"Court records show these allegations are completely false and Tennesseans know when someone is trying to pull one over on them," Brent Leatherwood, a spokesman for the Desjarlais campaign said in a written statement to 10News.

In digging through the large case filing 10News couldn't identify a document that cleared Desjarlais but with the closing of the divorce, his case is settled and technically, those allegations are no longer binding.

"Then Desjarlais, a rich man went to court to cut his child support payments," the ad says.

That's not the whole story either.

Court records indicate Desjarlais makes somewhere around $120,000 a year.  

According to US Congressman Dean Heller, the average rank and file congressman makes $174,000 annually.

In this case, Desjarlais has asked for his child support payments to be cut a number of times.  In court documents, he indicates his revenue is now smaller than it once was.  Further, he indicates he now has a greater share of custody of his child than he previously did.  In other words, he filed that he should pay less in child custody payments because his son stayed in Desjarlais' care more often than when the amount was set.

During our investigation Friday, we did speak briefly with Dr. Desjarlais attorney, J Harvey Cameron.  He handed us a letter addressed to Congressman Davis demanding the television spot be pulled, or it would "result in further actions to protect the reputation of my client".



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