On a TN Supreme Court decision & the ‘lavish lifestyle’ of Gordon Ball, ex-wife

From a column by Victor Ashe, former U.S. ambassador to Poland, former Knoxville mayor, former state senator and the 1984 Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate:

It is not often a serious candidate for the U.S. Senate has in his past a state Supreme Court decision that delves into his personal life, thereby making it public. But such is the case with Gordon Ball, a wealthy Knoxville attorney and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in the Aug. 7 primary.

He is featured in the case of Marie Larsen-Ball v. Gordon Ball argued in the state Supreme Court on Sept. 4, 2009, and decided on Jan. 14, 2010, in a decision written and published by then-Chief Justice Janice Holder, who is retiring in August. It can be found at 301 S.W. 3d 328.

Of the current three justices seeking retention on the court in August, only Cornelia Clark participated in this case. Gary Wade, who was on the court at the time, recused himself due to a longtime friendship with Ball. Only four justices participated.

The basic issue was whether a $17 million attorney fee received on Aug. 31, 2006, which occurred after his spouse filed for divorce but before the divorce became final, is part of the marital property and subject to equitable distribution in divorce. The final divorce hearing was a full year later on Aug. 27 and 29, 2007.

$17 million is significant and worth arguing over, especially if one spouse is going to get 40 percent of it.

At the trial court, marital property was valued in 2007 as $29,650,000, which included the disputed $17 million. The Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Frank Clement (son of the late Gov. Frank Clement), held it was marital property, and the Supreme Court agreed. It had to be divided between the two spouses.

It makes fascinating reading as it appears in the opinion itself that Gordon Ball had a rich lifestyle. The opinion even refers to payments of $55,000 to paramours (the court’s language, not mine).

The opinion says: “Both parties enjoy a lavish lifestyle and spend money on a grand scale. During the marriage (Marie) Ball spent extensive sums of money … and (Gordon) Ball has not been Spartan in his lifestyle.”

It will be up to the voters in the Democratic primary to determine the relevance of this in terms of who should carry the Democratic banner against Sen. Lamar Alexander in the November general election. Knoxville attorney Terry Adams is Ball’s principal opponent. Another Knox County resident, John D. King, is seeking the GOP nomination.

Whether this part of Ball’s biography influences your vote (and how) is up to every Democratic voter. This writer thinks you ought to know about it and not learn of it after the primary is over.

Note: A pdf of the full opinion is HERE.