A Fayette County family court judge faces a lawsuit over a novel he wrote, and insurance companies have asked for a ruling on whether they have to cover the cost of his defense and potential damages.
The lawsuits arise from a book that Circuit Judge Tim Philpot published last year called ‘Judge Z: Irretrievably Broken’.
According to a 2016 Herald-Leader story, the book is a fictional account of a judge — burned out by the problems he sees in court — who comes up with the idea of holding a hearing to see if a couple’s marriage is really “irretrievably broken.”
That is the phrase used in Kentucky divorce filings.
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A Lexington physician, whose divorce Philpot handled, sued him over the book in March.
Dr. Jitander Dudee argued in the lawsuit that a character in the novel, Dr. Gupta Patel, represents him, citing details such as their Hindu names; their nearly identical incomes; the fact both met their American wives at a hospital; and that both were jailed during their divorce proceedings.
Dudee charged in the lawsuit that the book includes numerous false statements about the character based on him, including that he had cheated on his wife, that his children hated him, that he had hidden assets from the court and was not willing to pay his debts.
Dudee said the book libeled and defamed him, placed him in a false light and invaded his privacy.
The lawsuit said he has suffered humiliation, anxiety, mental anguish, emotional distress and damage to his reputation and career.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages of more than $25,000.
Dudee filed the lawsuit in Ohio, where the company that published Philpot’s book is located.
One of his attorneys, Stephen E. Imm, said the complaint is scheduled for trial next year.
Efforts to reach Philpot on Friday were not successful.
However, Imm said that in his response in the Ohio lawsuit, Philpot has denied doing anything wrong.
Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen said the book is an “engaging, well-written story” about a judge who orders the controversial hearing in hopes that a couple with young children will reconcile.
The book explores the social costs of divorce, babies born out of wedlock and children growing up in unstable homes, Eblen said.
Philpot, a socially conservative Methodist and former Republican state senator, also writes in the book about marriage as the Biblical analogy for God's love.
In a related development, a lawsuit was filed this week in federal court in Lexington by Nationwide Mutual Insurance and Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance against Philpot and Dudee.
The companies covered Philpot under a personal and a homeowners policy when the book was published, and he has made a claim under the policies for the costs of a legal defense and a settlement or judgment if needed, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit raises questions about the extent of coverage. For instance, the policies exclude coverage for business pursuits, so to the extent Dudee’s claims arise from a business pursuit by Philpot, they wouldn’t be covered, the lawsuit said.
The policies also define a covered occurrence as an injury or property damage resulting from an accident.
“There is a question as to whether the publication of a book can be considered an accident,” the Nationwide lawsuit said. “To the extent that the publication of a book cannot be considered an accident, claims arising out of a book’s publication are expressly excluded from coverage under both aforementioned policies.”
There also is an exclusion for willful acts.
The lawsuit seeks a judgment determining Nationwide’s duty to pay or extend coverage to Philpot or Dudee for damages. It is common for insurance companies to seek such rulings, Imm said.
The state Judicial Conduct Commission reprimanded Philpot in January for making divorcing couples with children take part in hearings to determine if their marriage was broken beyond repair, but not requiring such hearings for people without children.
Philpot told the Herald-Leader at the time he would hold such hearings for all couples.
“I am pleased that the Judicial Conduct Commission has publicly affirmed that hearings to determine whether a marriage is ‘irretrievably broken’ are permitted under Kentucky law for every divorce, not just those with minor children,” Philpot said in January.