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Lawyer in Labor Secretary Nominee’s Divorce Says Abuse Allegations Were ‘Credible’

4 minute read

The domestic abuse allegations against Trump’s Labor Secretary pick Andrew Puzder were “credible and believable” at the time they were filed in the 1980s, according to a lawyer who represented Puzder’s ex-wife, Lisa Henning at the time.

Dan Sokol, who represented Henning in the divorce proceedings against Andrew Puzder in 1986, said in an interview that he found Henning’s allegations of domestic abuse to be convincing and that she had presented medical records to back up her claims. “She described it to me as an ongoing pattern with several episodes involving physical violence,” he said. “I felt that she was credible, I believed her, and I believed that we could make a case to a judge under the facts that she related to me.”

Andrew Puzder, who was recently announced as President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary, is the CEO of CKE restaurant, which owns fast-food outlets like Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s. He is an outspoken critic of minimum wage increases and paid sick leave policies.

Sokol, who is now retired, says he frequently encountered domestic violence allegations during his time as a family lawyer, but did not always find the allegations credible enough to bring to court. “One of the things I’m most concerned about in evaluating a case is how it will look in a courtroom, how my client will withstand cross examination, and so I would go through with my client asking them particularly pointed questions,” he said. “I found her to be credible and believable and I found her facts to be cohesive.”

In depositions filed in the 1986 divorce and originally reported by the Riverfront Times, Henning alleged that Puzder hit her and threw her to the floor, then unplugged the phone to prevent her from calling for help. She alleged that he “attacked me, choked me, threw me to the floor, hit me in the head pushed his knee into my chest twisted my arm and dragged me on the floor, threw me against a wall, tried to stop my call to 911 and kicked me in the back.”

Puzder acknowledged in a deposition that police were called to the home, but said that that he only pushed his wife after she came at him yelling, and speculated that she ended up on the floor after her foot caught on something. After that incident, Henning sought a protective order.

Henning also alleged that Puzder punched her in a car in 1985. Puzder denied the allegation, but admitted that he had been driving after drinking. He said that the incident in the car was not a physical altercation but that the car jumped the curb. “I think it had to do with the liquid refreshment we had with our dinner more than anything else,” he said.

Police had previously been called to answer a domestic dispute at the couple’s home in the 1970s, when neighbors called the police after hearing the pair throwing plates.

Henning, who now goes by the name Lisa Fierstein after a second marriage, has since walked back her allegations. “Many years ago I impulsively filed for divorce and was counseled to file allegations that I regretted and subsequently withdrew over thirty years ago,” she said in a statement provided by the Trump transition team. “He and I have long ago worked out any differences that occurred over thirty years ago and I cannot recall a single incident involving the police.”

“He will be a fantastic addition to the new administration’s cabinet,” she said.

Sokol says he is bewildered by the insinuation that Henning was coached to file the allegations. “If that’s the suggestion, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “I would never have done that, I just suggest options to clients.”

“I’ve had many clients over the years where there have been abusive acts and abusive behavior and we’ve chosen not to go there,” he added. “One can only speculate about what’s motivating all this.”


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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com