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France sues ex-wife, claims wiretapping

- gwright@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Apr. 15, 2011

NASCAR chairman Brian France has sued his former wife, accusing her of tape recording telephone conversations to extort money from him.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, Brian France claims his ex-wife, Megan France, recorded multiple telephone conversations with him without his consent. He is asking a federal judge to issue an injunction barring her from engaging in additional "intercepts of wire communications" between the two and distributing the contents of the recordings.

Brian and Megan France have been married and divorced twice, Brian France noted in his lawsuit. Their second divorce was finalized on April 29, 2008.

Since their second divorce, France said he and his ex-wife have continued to have regular discussions over financial and custodial affairs - particularly about their two minor children.

"Throughout this time...defendant has engaged in a pattern and practice of illegally tape recording conversations with plaintiff, without his knowledge or consent, for the purpose of extorting money and other concessions from plaintiff," the lawsuit alleges.

"Defendant has threatened to disclose these illegal recordings to third parties and thereby damage Mr. France in his personal capacity as well as in his professional capacity as the Chairman and CEO of NASCAR."

Brian France alleges his ex-wife has offered not to disclose the recordings - keeping them private - if he pays her "substantial sums of money."

Megan France's lawyers could not be reached for comment Friday.

Brian France has sought to keep the messy divorce and legal dispute in state court secret.

Their state court case began in 2008 when Brian France won a ruling from then-Mecklenburg District Judge Todd Owens, who granted him the right to file a sealed lawsuit against Megan France accusing her of breaching the divorce agreement's confidentiality clause.

Owens placed the entire complaint, including his own order sealing the record, under seal - an unusual move in a court system that typically allows widespread access to courtrooms and documents.

Brian France also sought to have the courtroom proceedings closed to the public.

Mecklenburg District Judge Jena Culler overturned Owens' order and ruled in 2009 that the documents be unsealed and that the proceedings be held in open court.

Brian France appealed. His lawyer has said the dispute between the Frances involves "intensely private (matters) that related to the welfare and parenting of minor children...and private personal financial matters."

The Observer has sought access to the secret court documents and asked that the court hearings be kept open.

Documents filed in the appeal provide some details about the divorce agreement - information that had been sealed in Mecklenburg County.

The divorce agreement that is currently under seal is what the Frances signed after their second divorce. It stipulates not only the money owed to Megan France, but also custody terms for their young twins and provisions about their upbringing, including that they be raised in Mecklenburg County, according to court filings.

Brian France agreed to pay Megan France a total of $9 million in "distributive" awards, as well as $32,500 a month in alimony for 10 years and $10,000 a month in child support, according to the documents.

Megan France has accused her ex-husband of "harassing her in multiple ways," including hiring private investigators to follow her and violating their agreement "concerning the care of, and joint decision making for" their twins, according to the documents.

In February, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the Frances' litigation should be played out in open court. The appeals court said Brian France had failed to show that his interest in keeping the litigation secret outweighed the public's right to open court proceedings.

The appeals court judges, however, allowed previously filed documents in the case to remain sealed, leaving it to the judge in Charlotte who handles the Frances' trial to decide which documents, if any, should be made public. The judge also will have to decide whether courtroom testimony related to sealed documents should be closed.

Researcher Maria David of the Observer contributed to this report.

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