Lost Love Lawsuit May Hit High Court

Woman at center of plumber v. millionaire divorce says she's not property.

ByABC News via logo
February 18, 2009, 6:43 PM

Oct. 29, 2007 — -- A messy divorce that set off a bizarre lawsuit pitting a plumber against a Mississippi millionaire could now be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sandra Valentine had been married to plumber Johnny Valentine for four years when she began working for Holly Springs, Miss., businessman Jerry Fitch Sr.

Within a year, Sandra and Fitch, who was also married, began an affair. When Sandra got pregnant, Johnny, who suspected she was cheating, ordered a paternity test, which showed he was not the father.

Johnny filed for divorce and then sued Fitch, claiming "alienation of affection," or, in other words, stealing his wife's love.

Johnny won more than $750,000 in state court, but Fitch wants the Supreme Court to step in and limit the claim.

Fitch said he shouldn't have to pay $112,000 in punitive damages, citing an earlier high court decision that overturned state sodomy laws in 2003. He is not contesting the rest of the judgment.

Mississippi is one of only seven states that still allow lawsuits over claims of "spousal theft." The others are Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Mississippi.

The law essentially says that a wife is a man's property, a notion many women, including Sandra Valentine, find offensive.

"I don't consider myself property," Sandra said Monday on "Good Morning America." "Not Johnny's, not anyone's. Just my own."

Her husband has claimed their marriage was fine until Sandra went to work for Fitch, which she denied.

"No that's not true, Johnny had gambling problem," Sandra said. "It took a period of about six years to destroy our marriage."

She said she did not leave the marriage earlier because of her children.

Johnny Valentine and his attorney would not comment because the case is still pending in the courts.

It's been reported that Fitch is worth $22 million, which he denied today on "GMA." Fitch said he was worth "a whole lot less that that, a whole lot."

Fitch also said that the case was about principle, not just the money.

"This alienation of affection law is only in seven states in the United States now," he said. "It needs to be off the books. This is not right."

Sandra said, however, that she believes the lawsuit is about one thing for her ex-husband.

"Just the money," she said. "He had already alienated my affection with gambling, so the marriage was already over before I met Jerry. So he's wrong."