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Old Divorce File Riles Tennessee

Republican Scott DesJarlais, who is challenging Rep. Lincoln Davis (D) in Tennessee’s 4th district, was involved in a bitter divorce a decade ago in which his ex-wife accused him of harassment, intimidation and physical abuse, according to a series of court motions obtained by Roll Call this week.

DesJarlais’ campaign on Wednesday called the accusations in the motions false and “baseless” and said the documents have only surfaced because Davis is running scared with less than two months before Election Day.

The documents, filed by an attorney for Susan DesJarlais in Tennessee Chancery Court, paint a disturbing picture of Susan and Scott DesJarlais’ relationship in the months before their 2001 divorce.

In a motion filed in November 2000, Susan DesJarlais sought to obtain sole possession of the couple’s home and claimed she was forced to leave the residence when her husband’s behavior “became violent and threatening.”

In that document, Susan DesJarlais accused her former husband of “dry firing a gun outside the Plaintiff’s locked bedroom door, admission of suicidal ideation, holding a gun in his mouth for three hours, an incident of physical intimidation at the hospital; and previous threatening behavior ... i.e. shoving, tripping, pushing down, etc.”

In another court document from February 2001, Susan DesJarlais asked that her husband’s visitation rights with their child be limited after he allegedly showed up at her apartment complex on Valentine’s Day and began harassing her to the point that she called the police.

“These one-sided accusations from a decade-old divorce are all false and the court ruled there was no validity to any of them,” DesJarlais campaign manager Brent Leatherwood said in a statement Wednesday. Leatherwood noted that neither motion was addressed by the court in the final decree of divorce that was issued in July 2001 and that neither party was named by the court as being at fault.

A follow-up order from September 2001 obtained by Roll Call found Susan DesJarlais to be in contempt of court for verbally abusing and cursing Scott DesJarlais in the presence of their child.

“For them to sling this kind of mud shows how desperate they are to obscure Rep. Davis’s support for Pelosi’s job-killing agenda that has hurt so many Tennesseans,” Leatherwood said. “His voting record of late signals that he’s strayed far from his Tennessee roots, and the gutter campaign he’s running further proves that he’s just another Washington politician willing to go to any lengths to hold on to power.”

Leatherwood said the 4th district campaign wouldn’t be about personal attacks but about “the problems facing America and how we’re going to solve them.”

But the documents add more detail to an issue that has already become fodder on the campaign trail.

Last week, the Davis campaign circulated a “campaign update” that listed several reasons Tennesseans will be unable to trust DesJarlais. Among them was his repeated petitions to the Chancery Court to have his child support payments lowered during and after his divorce.

Contacted Wednesday about the latest documents, Davis campaign manager Justin Wallin called DesJarlais’ ex-wife’s allegations of spousal abuse “very serious and disturbing.”

“In the 4th Congressional district, people expect more than lip service about family values,” Wallin said.

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