In a near empty courtroom Tuesday, Judge CJ Mody asked Margaret Hunter: “Have irreconcilable differences led to the breakdown of your marriage with Mr. Hunter?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Do you believe there is anything that this court can do to save your marriage to Mr. Hunter?”
“No,” she said.
And so a little before noon, on the second floor of the El Cajon courthouse, former East County congressman Duncan Duane Hunter and his one-time campaign manager wife formally saw their marriage end after 24 years.
They had just returned from Judge Laura Miller’s nearby court for a private settlement conference — thus negating the need for a scheduled half-day trial.
Margaret, 47, and Duncan, 46, hadn’t lived together since August 10, 2019 — two months after she pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to use his campaign funds for a family vacation to Italy in November 2015 and confessing to $200,000 in fraudulent spending involving at least 30 illegal transactions.
For her cooperation with federal prosecutors, which led her husband to plead guilty six months later (and resign his six-term seat), Margaret was sentenced to home confinement. Duncan was handed an 11-month prison sentence.
Both were spared punishment when President Trump pardoned them on consecutive days in December 2020.
Margaret — who sued for divorce more than two years ago — retains custody of her daughter Sarah, 16, with Duncan being given “reasonable visitation.” They also have an adult daughter and son.
“Currently, Father visits with Sarah whenever she asks to visit with him, which is approximately 18 hours per month to visit,” according to court records.
Judge Mody asked Margaret if she wanted her former name restored.
The Polish-born La Mesa resident said yes. Her name is again Margaret Elizabeth Jankowski.
Restoring her financial health will take a little longer.
Margaret, a $22-an-hour certified nursing aide with Anza Healthcare, will apparently continue getting $1,038 monthly child support and $323 spousal support (as of last July).
But she was in such poor shape in December — when she pleaded guilty to driving without valid registration since February 2018 — that she set up monthly payments of $25 to retire a $150 fine.
Duncan, making about $4,000 a month as a consultant for his new Valoon LLC and banking $1,853 a month in VA disability checks, owed her a little over $23,000, while Margaret owed him $10,454 before Tuesday.
But according to stipulations Tuesday agreed to in a two-hour settlement conference closed to the media, the couple waived reimbursements and credits.
Duncan, who lives in Alpine with his parents (including former Rep. Duncan Lee Hunter) also will pay a Rady Children’s Hospital bill of $13,931 (as of October 2022) and split a $77,000 Thrift Savings Plan.
Both keep their own cars — his 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe and her 2012 GMC Acadia. (Their daughter Elisabeth can keep their 2002 Ford Taurus.)
Duncan will pay off their joint debt under the plan signed Tuesday.
As of mid-January, they owed the IRS $17,627.66 for tax year 2017 and $21,746.92 for tax year 2016, according to Duncan’s brief — a total of $39,374.58.
“Husband proposes that … $53,393.19 be confirmed as his sole and separate obligation, with offset from Wife,” his brief said.
At the beginning of what was expected to be a three-hour bench trial — with the judge deciding how to split any assets and debts under dispute — Margaret explained why she skipped a December 5 hearing she’d been ordered to attend.
She had come down with COVID three days earlier, she told the court, and also had an ailment that kept her from speaking. The judge let her off the hook, not fining her in a “sanctions” hearing.
Duncan attorney Abrigo agreed to prepare paperwork within six days of who owed what, and Mody set an April 24 provisional hearing date if the money hadn’t changed hands.
Margaret left the courtroom first — not speaking to Duncan. Both declined to comment on their case.
“I commend the two of you for reaching an agreement in this case,” Mody said before adjourning. “It’s always in the parties’ best interest to reach agreements because you know your situations better than this court ever will. And that way you have some control over what happens.”
He wished them both best of luck.