WASHINGTON – State Sen. John Ford (search) testified in a juvenile court hearing that he keeps two homes, living with two different women whose children he fathered.
Ford's testimony was part of his defense in a child support case. The Memphis Democrat heads a Senate committee that guides the state's child welfare policies (search), and for the past year he's tried to make use of a law he authored that keeps court-ordered support lower when a father is financially responsible for other children.
In a Juvenile Court hearing last year that is set for a follow-up hearing on Tuesday, Ford said he lives some days with ex-wife Tamara Mitchell-Ford (search) and the three children they had together. On others, he stays with his longtime girlfriend, Connie Mathews (search), and their two children.
Ford and Mitchell-Ford went through a bitter divorce in 2002 that led to Mitchell-Ford's jailing after she plowed her car through Mathews' Collierville home.
Ford said he pays nearly all bills for both families. They stay in houses he owns and where he also lives, though neither home is in his South Memphis Senate district.
"You have two homes?" Referee Felicia Hogan asks during the tape recorded hearing from November. "Well, that's unusual."
"Not necessarily," Ford shot back. "I know people who got five."
Hogan responded: "For child support purposes that's unusual, let me put it that way then."
Ford is battling a suit by a third woman, Dana Smith, who is trying to increase his court-ordered support of a 10-year-old girl he fathered. Smith, a former employee under Ford when he was General Sessions Clerk, won a 1996 sexual harassment verdict against him.
Ford contends that any increase for Smith should be tempered by his financial obligations to his other five minor children. None of those children is subject to child support orders.
In the hearing, Ford argued all five children live in his household — a household that encompasses two homes — and because of that he is exempt from rules requiring strict proof of his financial support of them.
Hogan rejected Ford's request, saying he must produce evidence of bills paid if he wants credit to lessen any modification of Smith's child support.
Mitchell-Ford told The Commercial Appeal newspaper last week said she can verify at least some of Ford's contentions. She said she is six months pregnant, and the father, she said, is John Ford, now 62.
"John is over here every single day, if not staying here," she said.
Ford did not respond to messages left at his Nashville and Memphis offices. Mathews could not be reached.
Ford's comments were part of a hearing more than two years after Smith first petitioned Juvenile Court to increase the senator's $500-a-month support.
Ford's income has risen dramatically in recent years. Evidence presented in the hearing showed Ford's gross income reached $356,899 in 2003 and $255,752 in 2002.
Ford said most of that comes from his private insurance and real estate consulting business, though specific sources remain a secret. At Ford's request, Hogan ordered state's attorney Joseph Little to keep confidential receipts and documented expenses Ford was ordered to hand over.
Disclosure "would expose all of my business interests and everything. It would put me in imminent danger of a lot of different things I don't want to explain in here," Ford told the court.