VOL. 124 | NO. 188 | Thursday, September 24, 2009
UPDATE: Herenton Income To Be Examined In Child Support Petition
By Bill Dries
The mother of a 4-year-old child who is the son of former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton wants to know more about how he makes his money now that he’s out of work.
The petition for contempt and to modify child support filed in Juvenile Court Thursday seeks to change the child support payments for Michael J. Herenton.
The child lives with his mother, Claudine A. Marsh, in the Atlanta area. Marsh met Herenton in late 2003 while she worked at The Peabody and he was mayor.
Herenton acknowledged later he is the boy’s father. He agreed to pay $2,100 a month in child support and to provide health insurance for Michael, as well as use any city pension benefits as security on future child support.
“He’s been paying his child support,” attorney Patricia A..Woods, who represents Marsh, told The Daily News. “It’s our position that the child support should be increased. The primary issue is that under terms of the 2005 order, Mr. Herenton was required and agreed to … take the city of Memphis pension and make those benefits payable to their minor child.”
Maintenance of effort
The monthly child support payments were based on Herenton having 80 days of visitation a year with the child as well as his income as mayor.
“The more days you spend, obviously the lower the child support is,” Woods said. “In this case, there have been no days spent with the child.”
Woods said she and co-counsel William W. Jones IV filed the motion after repeated attempts to contact Herenton and his attorney. Herenton could not be reached for comment.
The first step in the matter will be a Juvenile Court hearing to freeze Herenton’s $506,000 lump sum pension payment until there can be a hearing to determine how much should go to Michael. The motion also seeks $250,000 to be held in a trust fund for the child.
The civil contempt proceedings touch on some of the most controversial aspects of Herenton’s later years as mayor, his private business dealings.
“There are certainly political implications. We certainly understand that,” said Jones, who is serving as co-counsel because he lives in Mississippi. “We are not naïve enough to believe that there’s not going to be some blowback on this. … I don’t care if he’s running for anything. I care what kind of father he is.”
A federal grand jury has been investigating land deals as well as money from mayoral Christmas parties for about a year to determine if Herenton crossed the line separating public duties from private business.
Herenton has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime. He told The Daily News this month he has never been notified that he is the target of the grand jury probe. Herenton has also refused to talk in any detail about his outside business interests.
In the Juvenile Court matter, he might be forced to talk about it in depositions that would probably be sealed.
“We’re not sure that the income was correct,” Jones said referring to the 2005 child support agreement and court order. “That’s all income. That’s income that should have been figured in. … And until we get a chance to depose him, we won’t know what his income is.”
Because the contempt proceedings are civil and not criminal, Herenton could not invoke the Fifth Amendment if there was anything incriminating he didn’t want to admit.
“If someone doesn’t answer the questions in a civil matter, then the court is allowed to assume that the answer would hurt whoever was supposed to be answering that,” Woods said. “And realistically we don’t want the court to put Mr. Herenton in jail.”
Herenton’s resignation on July 31 to run for Congress in 2010 amounts to what is called “voluntary underemployment” in child support cases.
“You can’t willfully and voluntarily underemploy yourself,” Jones said. “He can’t guarantee he’s going to win this election. There’s no income stream. And in light of that we’ve got to make sure these funds aren’t dissipated.”
Marsh has declined to comment directly, Jones said. She has talked with Herenton directly in recent days, Woods said, and has also been forced to move this week because of flooding in the Atlanta area.
“Basically what we’re asking the court is to treat Mr. Herenton the way they would treat any other non-custodial parent who quit their job without making provisions for their minor child,” Woods said. “He has a legal responsibility to this child and we’re asking the court to enforce it.’