Morton: Scott divorce should be open

A Macon woman seeking to open 8th Congressional District Republican candidate Austin Scott’s divorce records claims the public’s right to know as her motivation, and not campaign politics.

Scott is running against four-term incumbent Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., for the seat.

Amy Morton, a Macon-based family therapist and Democrat activist, had a motion filed to open the divorce records on Sept. 30. An Oct. 26 hearing has been set in Tift County Superior Court to review the records.

“I’ve had no contact with the Marshall campaign on this issue. It is my decision. I think the public has a right to know why the records are sealed and what is in the records,” Morton said. “My records, other people’s records, are open. Why should Mr. Scott be any different? I’m not making a judgment of what is in the records. How would anybody know? They are sealed.”

Scott was divorced from his first wife, Annette Leigh Scott, in 2001, and the records were sealed July 9, 2004, according to the motion filed in Tift County Superior Court.

Tift County Superior Court Judge Melanie Cross signed the order to set the hearing. Before becoming a judge, Cross donated $1,000 to the Marshall campaign in 2006.

The motion will be heard by Tift County Superior Court Judge Bill Reinhardt.

Carmel Sanders, Morton’s lawyer, said her office has attempted several times to serve Scott court papers — a normal procedure in a civil case — during the past week “but our process server has not been successful.”

Scott’s campaign said the candidate has been at various locations across the 8th District campaigning in public every day.

“We’ve set a time for 9:30 a.m. (Friday),” Sanders said, “to meet Mr. Scott to serve the papers.”

The Scott campaign has been tight-lipped about the divorce records, and the Marshall camp claims no prior knowledge of the motion. Scott’s campaign spokesman, Sam Ray, declined to answer questions regarding why the records were sealed, or if they would be unsealed before the hearing.

Ray reissued a statement by e-mail Thursday initially released Saturday: “With so many Georgians hurt by the recession and struggling to get through it, it’s sad that Jim Marshall is so desperate that he is attempting to use a private matter to drag these families through the mud to try and keep the job that he’s failed to do.”

Doug Moore, Marshall’s spokesman, said Thursday the “motion came as a complete surprise to us. We had absolutely nothing to do with this or any knowledge it was going to be filed.” The motion resembles a similar legal tactic used two years ago to open the divorce records of Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who was divorced just before the 2008 election season began, said University of Georgia political expert Charles Bullock.

“It’s my impression that divorce records are not usually sealed,” Bullock said. “There have been cases where the records would be sealed concerning a child, but these are infrequent.”

A political reason for filing a motion a month away from the general election, Bullock said, could be that it would harm Scott in early voting, now allowed under Georgia law. “The election is really under way right now, with people going to the polls to cast early votes,” Bullock said. “It could be damaging to Scott.”

To contact writer Shelby G. Spires, call 744-4494.