Days before Saturday’s balloting, the ex-wife of Clay Higgins released tape recordings in which the Republican candidate suggests winning the election for the congressional seat representing Acadiana is the best route for her to receive the more than $100,000 he admits owing in unpaid child support.
“It is a risk,” Higgins is heard telling his ex-wife Rosemary “Stormy” Rothkamm-Hambrice about his congressional bid, “but everything is structured in our favor and ours includes you.”
Higgins said he wasn’t working now, just campaigning, but alluded to being able to cover the back child support once he won the election. Congressmen are paid $174,000 annually.
“I was trying to structure something more sort of solid and legal, you know in a document you had drawn up based on very likely potential future earnings,” Higgins said.
Ted Anthony, Higgins’ lawyer in the action, said in an interview Thursday night that the tapes were made after he attempted to find a way to resolve the issue. But Rothkamm-Hambrice didn’t return Anthony's calls, he said. So, Higgins got on the phone and tried to find a way to settle the back child support.
Anthony said he thought Higgins was trying to tell Rothkamm-Hambrice that “if he were to win, it would give him the resources to resolve this matter ... I think Clay is genuine in his desire to take care of this.”
“But she tapes him, which is weird, and now they (the Angelle campaign) are trying to make this an issue,” Anthony said.
[Audio below; click here if unable to view.]
Higgins, of Port Barre, faces fellow Republican Scott Angelle, the Public Service Commission chairman from Breaux Bridge. During a televised debate Thursday night Higgins said he had not heard the tapes.
“This is not a campaign issue for us. It's a campaign issue for Angelle,” Chris Comeaux, Higgins’ campaign manager, said in a text when asked for comment.
In a news release Thursday, the Angelle campaign included copies of the undated tape recordings that Rothkamm-Hambrice posted on her Facebook page.
Rothkamm-Hambrice, Angelle and many of the candidate’s closest advisers worked for Bobby Jindal when he was governor. Higgins is making his first bid for elective office.
On the tape recording, Higgins asked Rothkamm-Hambrice, who now lives in Mississippi, not to file a lawsuit seeking the unpaid child support, saying it would disrupt a campaign that he said he has all but won. Saturday’s race is too close to call and will depend on who gets their supporters to the polls, most political professionals say. But many pols have been surprised how well Higgins, known for his tough-talking CrimeStoppers segments on local news, seems to be faring against Angelle, who has been a mainstay in Louisiana politics for years.
“The only way that can, really, sort of, alter this path to victory and success for all of us would be for you to file a new case against me right now,” Higgins told Rothkamm-Hambrice.
His ex-wife replies, “Maybe you should figure out how to make it right before that.”
On the day after the Nov. 8 primary, Rothkamm-Hambrice sued in district court in Opelousas. She claims Higgins stopped paying court-ordered child support in March 2005 and now owes $140,826 in neglected back payments, additional interest and penalties.
Higgins and Rothkamm-Hambrice were divorced in 1999. A Texas judge ordered Higgins to pay $1,289 per month.
All three of the children are now adults, with the youngest child turning 18 and graduating from high school in May 2013, and no longer receive child support. But Rothkamm-Hambrice claims she had to cover the children’s expenses for years, despite the 1999 court order.
Higgins made six-figure earnings selling cars while married to Rothkamm-Hambrice and for a few years after their divorce. But he left that work to follow a career in law enforcement He kept the children on his health insurance but made far less money and could not afford the child support payments. He said he helped his children wherever possible and visited them regularly. Two attended his party on the night of the primary election.
He went to court in St. Landry Parish to try to officially adjust the amount, but that case transferred in 2005 to the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, where Rothkamm had moved, but no hearing was ever set.
"I could easily owe between a hundred and hundred fifty thousand dollars," Higgins was recorded as telling his ex-wife.
Anthony said Higgins was speaking from a personal level, a feeling that he owes something. But legally Higgins may not. There are questions of whether the Texas judgment is enforceable and whether the case filed in East Baton Rouge Parish years ago should be heard first, he said.
“He voluntarily underemployed himself, was fired from and/or quit many jobs in the car business both during our marriage and after divorce,” Rothkamm-Hambrice wrote on her Facebook page. “He was always chasing his next big dream, the one that would make him rich and would help me support the kids. That never happened.”
Rothkamm-Hambrice, a paralegal, worked as an executive assistant in Jindal’s office, where she made about $65,000 annually, according to state records. Her attorney, Brooke Villa, works in the law firm in which Jindal’s executive counsel, Jimmy Faircloth, is a name partner.
The 10 parishes of the 3rd Congressional District straddle Interstate 10 from the Atchafalaya to the Texas border and include Lafayette, Morgan City and Lake Charles.