Release of Rep. Scott DesJarlais divorce transcript delayed

Authored By James Harrison

A lengthy transcript of Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ past divorce proceedings won’t be made public until sometime later, a Hamilton County judge determined Monday.

After initially ruling that the transcript-approximately between 600 and 700 pages long-would be made available for public review, Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Bolton said that the file would be released only after it was able to be transcribed in its entirety by a Marion County court clerk. 

How long that would take remained to be seen.

“It may be tonight, it may be tomorrow morning, it may be tomorrow afternoon,” said Gerard Stranch, attorney for the Tennessee Democratic Party, upon exiting the Hamilton County Courthouse Monday afternoon. “We don’t know.”

DesJarlais faces his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Eric Stewart, in Tuesday’s general election for the 4th District.

Bolton’s decision came following a morning hearing in which a motion filed by the Democratic Party to have the files made public was considered. DesJarlais, a freshman, pro-life Republican, has been under scrutiny since reports last month revealed he engaged in sexual relationships with at least two patients while working as a physician in Jasper.

At the time, DesJarlais was undergoing a bitter divorce, which took two years to finalize. 

A partial transcript of a phone conversation between DesJarlais and one of the unnamed women detailed him encouraging her to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

The congressman has not denied either relationship but has sought to explain that he resorted to using “strong rhetoric” when suggesting the woman get an abortion because he knew that she was not actually pregnant. He has also said that he and his ex-wife were separated at the time of the relationships and had agreed to see other people.

After offering brief remarks to reporters while walking to his car following the hearing, DesJarlais issued a formal statement later Monday afternoon, saying he had decided to appear in court out of a desire to protect his family from “attacks” leveled against him since information regarding his past was first reported by The Huffington Post.

“The sole reason I appeared in Chattanooga was to protect my children from these desperate attacks being driven by the Tennessee Democratic Party, Lincoln Davis and my ex-wife,” he said. “My opponent and his far-left political allies have done all they can to make this election about everything besides my record in Congress. In fact, it seems like the only opponent that I have ever had to run against is a 14 year-old divorce.”

DesJarlais’ divorce was finalized in 2001. 

Speaking to reporters, DesJarlais’ attorney, Harvey Cameron, suggested that DesJarlais’ ex-wife, Susan Feltman, was equally at fault for the divorce, suggesting she had been involved in relationships with as many as seven other men. 

“The chancellor out both parties at fault because of the improprieties likewise of Susan DesJarlais,” he said.

Feltman’s attorney, Michael Galligan, disputed the claim. 

“That’s unfair, that’s untrue,” Galligan said. “That’s desperate. That’s all I have to say.”

Brandon Puttbrese, communications director for the Tennessee Democratic Party, accused DesJarlais’ attorney of  “patent stalling” by encouraging a delay of the release. Puttbrese said that hours before Election Day, 4th District voters deserved the “right to know the truth” regarding his life prior to being elected a congressman in 2010. 

Puttbrese added that the Democratic Party would not let the timing of Tuesday’s election affect their pursuit of the records, even if it meant obtaining them after the election. 

“Timing is obviously important in this situation, but ultimately this is about accountability,” Puttbrese said. “A doctor who is willing to abuse his patient’s trust can’t be trusted as a congressman who may abuse the trust of his constituents. So while the timing is important, we are going to press for accountability until the last hour if need be.”

The fallout from the latest batch of revelations regarding the congressman’s past have thrust him into a heated battle for retaining a seat once thought to be a stronghold for the GOP. DesJarlais was able to overcome details from his divorce being used against him by former Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis during the 2010 election cycle-though none included information regarding sexual relationships with patients. 

Since then, multiple groups have called for DesJarlais’ resignation, and a Washington, D.C.-based ethics group has filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health regarding the congressman’s license to practice medicine.

National Democratic groups have also turned their gaze to the 4th District race, upgrading its status and flooding at least $280,000 into a pair of TV commercials attacking the congressman on TVs in district media markets.

Republican officials across the state have shied from commenting publicly on the matter.

The election is tomorrow.