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Not Loving Husband Costs O.C. Wife Dearly : Divorce: Jury awards him $242,000 for her lies about desiring him. Case may change property division rules.


SANTA ANA — An Anaheim banker won $242,000 in damages Wednesday when a Superior Court jury concluded that his wife had lied to him throughout their 13-year relationship by concealing that she felt no physical attraction for him.

In a decision that could affect the way property is divided after divorces in California, the jury ordered Bonnette Askew, 46, of Santa Ana to return her $240,000 interest in four parcels of land the couple owned.

The jury agreed that Ronald Askew, her 50-year-old ex-husband, would not have married Bonnette Askew 11 years ago had he known that she felt no sexual desire for him, and ordered her to compensate him for the deception.

"She went into the marriage holding back something that was obviously very important to him," said juror Amy Beard, 45, of Huntington Beach, who called the trial a matter of "honesty and integrity."

Bonnette Askew must also pay $2,000 in cash damages. The Askews will return to court Monday, where a judge will decide whether she must pay an additional $84,000 from proceeds she received when a fifth property was sold.

Richard W. Millar, Bonnette Askew's lawyer, said an appeal is likely.

Ronald Askew unabashedly wept into his handkerchief as the clerk read the verdict aloud. Outside court, he hugged his daughter from a previous marriage and beamed as he talked of his relief that the trial, which included an airing of marital intimacies, was over.

"The hardest part of the trial was the fact that my ex-wife and her attorney chose to go to the press with what should have been a private matter," said Ronald Askew, who initiated the lawsuit but contended it might not have been publicized if his wife had not contacted a newspaper.

"But what I've learned from this is that when people enter in a marriage, they have a right to be honest with each other. If not, don't get married," he said.

Bonnette Askew, her eyes misty but her voice calm, said she was shocked at the verdict.

While she was never physically attracted to Ronald Askew, his ex-wife said, she had always loved him.

"That he would even think that I didn't love him because he had sexual problems is still a shock to me," she said outside of court. "I guess he confused sex with love."

Bonnette Askew had testified during the trial that she was never physically attracted to Ronald Askew and that as their marriage progressed he became impotent.

But jurors said they were not swayed by the claim that Ronald Askew's sexual dysfunction made him less attractive to his wife. For them, the main issue was Bonnette Askew's damaging testimony that she concealed her lack of physical attraction to her husband for more than a decade.

"The only reason I did not tell him was because I didn't want to hurt his male ego," Bonnette Askew said Wednesday.

Ronald Askew, president of the Pacific Inland Bank in Anaheim, testified that from the time the two began dating, and until their marriage ended in 1991, he had told Bonnette Askew that "honesty and integrity" were very important to him. He said he repeatedly asked if she wanted to reveal anything.

Time and time again, his wife told him she had nothing to hide, Ronald Askew told jurors.

But Bonnette Askew finally acknowledged that she found her husband sexually undesirable during a session the couple had with Bonnette Askew's psychiatrist in March, 1991. Bonnette Askew admitted the statement during her court testimony, and it was corroborated by the psychiatrist.

While it's too early to predict exactly what the verdict might mean to future divorce cases, Millar insisted that the decision could represent a precedent because it allows Ronald Askew to circumvent the property division reached in the divorce settlement.

"The issues decided by the jury were essentially those which would normally be decided by a judge in a divorce action," Millar said, "particularly the property issue."

What the jury in this trial concluded should be left up to a judge in family court, Millar said. And in his client's case, a judge had already decreed that Bonnette Askew should receive half of the properties as entitled to her under state law.

Under California divorce law, responsibility for the failure of a marriage does not affect the division of community property. Thus, attorneys for both sides said, the fraud suit was the only avenue for Ronald Askew to remove the four pieces of property from the prior divorce settlement.

Lawyers for Ronald Askew said the case "was highly unusual" but do not believe it sets a precedent.

Albert M. Graham Jr., who represented Ronald Askew in his divorce and was co-counsel in the civil case, cited a 1984 case in the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana in which the justices ruled that under certain circumstances matters that would normally be tried in the family court may be tried in civil court.

Ronald Askew bought the property during the marriage, with bonuses he earned before he married Bonnette Askew.

Bonnette Askew and her two children from her marriage with Ronald Askew have been living in a rented home on $3,400 a month in court-ordered support for the family. Lawyers on both sides said the verdict would not affect the support payments.

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