Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, an outspoken Democrat in the middle of an ugly divorce, was in family court today seeking to annul his marriage and protect his million-dollar fortune with an unusual argument: His wife, Lolita, was already married to another man when the two wed in 1990.
The trial, which was delayed in January after Grayson's wife needed emergency surgery to remove a leaking breast implant, opened Monday in Orlando.
After Lolita Grayson filed for divorce in January 2014, Grayson responded by seeking an annulment on the grounds that there was never a legal marriage in the first place. According to the Associated Press, court papers show the congressman's wife values her husband's worth at $31 million.
"It’s conduct unbecoming of a congressman, let alone a decent human being."'
"Unbeknownst to Mr. Grayson, Lolita Grayson was still married to another man, and was not divorced or widowed," the congressman's April 2014 court filing states. The documents also accuse her of having "represented herself as single in order to induce Mr. Grayson to marry her" and describe their union as "bigamous."
Based on those claims, Grayson is seeking custody of the couple's five children, as well as "all of the money and property she has received" during their "purported" marriage."
Bigamy is a third-degree felony in the state of Florida.
Court documents filed by Grayson claim his wife was already married to a man named Robert Carson; an accusation backed up by Florida court records showing Lolita did not obtain a judgment dissolving her previous marriage until March 1994.
Mark Longwell, an attorney for the lawmaker's wife, strenuously denied those claims, arguing that she had divorced Carson in 1981 in Guam, and criticizing Grayson for "conduct unbecoming of a congressman, let alone a human being."
"I keep hearing Alan Grayson's attorneys villainizing Mrs. Grayson. They're trying to position her as some sort of a fraud or a liar. That's a ridiculous claim," Longwell told msnbc. "Only after giving 29, almost 30 years of her life and raising five children and helping him accumulate enormous marital wealth — when she stood up for herself and said she wanted a divorce, his response was to use the most cutthroat legal tactic he can to try to deny her any of the rights of that marriage and to avoid the responsibilities he has to her."
Longwell also cast doubt on his accusations, asking why a "very rich congressman" had so far been unable to find Carson, who he said lives nearby in Fort Lauderdale.
But Mark Nejame, an attorney for Grayson, called the issue with Carson "a smokescreen."
"We found him, we know where he is, but he's a recluse," Nejame told msnbc. "That's a smokescreen. It's nothing more than an effort to hide the real issues, and that is that Lolita Carson was married to him when she married Alan Grayson and she didn't get a divorce until four years later."
"That's a smokescreen. It's nothing more than an effort to hide the real issues."'
According to Nejame, investigators found no evidence of any divorce with Carson in Guam. He added that Lolita claimed the records were destroyed in a fire, but that his office had confirmed that the clerk's office never burned down. "Her credibility has been an issue from the very beginning," he said.
Last March, Grayson's wife accused him of assault for allegedly pushing her, but the local sheriff's office declined to pursue charges after the congressman released cellphone video appearing to show it was he who was pushed. Grayson is seeking legal fees from his estranged wife for defamation and slander.
"They can jump up and down all they want, but we’ll get to the other issues once we resolve this cornerstone issue: Was she married to someone else when she married Alan Grayson, and, if so, then the marriage is voided," Nejame said. "We’re simply wanting to get the truth out and allow the court to make an appropriate decision."