DOCKET NO. FBT-FA11-4037815-S : SUPERIOR COURT
DORI B. HIGHTOWER : J. D. OF FAIRFIELD
V. : AT THE REGIONAL FAMILY TRIAL DOCKET in MIDDLETOWN
DENNIS F. HIGHTOWER : SEPTEMBER 20, 2017
EXCERPTS FROM MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
“The trial of the above matter was held on April 17 and 18, 2017. Witnesses included the plaintiff, a Spanish-speaking interpreter who testified as to the translation of certain documents written in that language, and Lisa Nkonoki, a mutual acquaintance of the parties.
Notably, the defendant did not appear at trial. The trial had previously been scheduled to commence on March 21, 2017. On March 15, 2017, the defendant filed an appearance to represent himself in lieu of his then–attorney of record. In addition, shortly before March 21, 2017, the defendant sent a letter to the court which was reviewed by court staff (who also provided a copy to plaintiff’s counsel) but not seen or read by the trial judge.
When the court convened for the trial on March 21, 2017, the defendant was not present. The undersigned trial judge was made aware that the defendant’s letter included statements to the effect that he did not intend to appear at trial. The trial judge declined to read the letter after plaintiff’s counsel represented that it included statements and allegations which would be prejudicial to the plaintiff.”
(Excerpt from the Memorandum of Decision dated September 20, 2017 of the Honorable Albis, J., page 1)
“The plaintiff’s testimony and exhibits present a thorough account of the couple’s brief and stormy relationship and marriage, and the court does not attempt to recount all of the details here. Rather, the court observes that it found the plaintiff’s testimony to be credible and summarizes the following findings as to fault in broad terms.
When the parties met, Mr. Hightower impressed the plaintiff with his business and political background. He had served on the boards of several major entities and earned substantial incomes in those positions. He lavished expensive gifts upon the plaintiff, including the above Mercedes Benz automobile which he gave to her only weeks after meeting her. He displayed the general appearance of having great wealth. In addition, his political star was rising at the time the parties met, as he was under consideration for appointment to a position in the administration of then-President Barack Obama.
The defendant proposed marriage to the plaintiff not long after they began seeing each other. They soon purchased a multi-million dollar estate in Stamford, Connecticut, which became the marital home. Shortly before the marriage, the defendant had in fact been appointed and confirmed as President Obama’s Deputy Secretary of Commerce. He split his time between Washington, D.C. and the Connecticut home.
However, after the defendant left that position in August 2010, things began to unravel. He expressed concern about his finances, eventually borrowing the loan from the plaintiff’s mother to help make ends meet. The defendant was unable to continue to afford the extravagant lifestyle in which he had engaged. It is unclear whether this was because he had depleted his accumulated wealth or because he misrepresented the extent of his wealth in the first place. The plaintiff’s exhibits demonstrate that the defendant made incomplete and inconsistent representations about his financial condition during the course of the marriage and these proceedings in various financial affidavits, loan applications, bankruptcy court filings, and government employment disclosures.
In any event, the defendant’s financial situation deteriorated to the point where he filed a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy petition in October 2013. The filing of the petition caused a stay in the process of this dissolution action until January 2016, when the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia issued an order permitting the entry of financial orders in this case. The bankruptcy delay is one of the reasons this dissolution action has been pending for a period of time that significantly exceeds the duration of the parties’ marriage before their separation and the filing of this action.
Meanwhile, other issues besides financial concerns began to arise in the marriage. The defendant’s controlling behavior as to matters such as the clothing his wife should wear made her feel that he only wanted a younger, attractive wife to accompany him to Washington, D.C. social and political functions, not a true partner. He changed his mind about his desire to have children with the plaintiff, something she had very much wanted. The final straw came when the plaintiff overheard a prolonged sexual dalliance between the defendant and another woman, as the result of his unintentional cell phone call to the plaintiff during the tryst.
For the reasons described herein, the court finds the defendant to be primarily and egregiously responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.”
(Excerpts from the Memorandum of Decision dated September 20, 2017 of the Honorable Albis, J., pages 10-12)