Attorney says alienation of affection lawsuit against former state senator settled

Attorney for husband whose wife’s affections were allegedly alienated from him during affair with state senator says lawsuit is settled; he claims financial payment from Gunn part of agreement

Former state senator Rick Gunn has reportedly agreed to a settlement in a lawsuit brought by the husband of his legislative assistant, Karen Johns, claiming that Gunn alienated her affections from her husband, Arthur Johns.

North Carolina is one of a few remaining states that has an “alienation of affection” statute that enables a spouse who feels another man or woman has interfered with his or her marriage to file a lawsuit against the person who allegedly broke up the marriage.

The Raleigh News & Observer credited Raleigh TV station WRAL as being the first to report the settlement, which was then described in greater detail in The News & Observer.

Gunn plans to pay Johns an undisclosed sum in return for the lawsuit being dropped, according to The News & Observer report, which cited as its source Richard Gannt, the attorney of Karen Johns’ husband, Arthur Johns.

“Upon payment of that money, he will dismiss his lawsuit charges against senator Gunn,” Gantt told The News & Observer on Tuesday. “I’m not allowed under the terms of the lawsuit to tell you the amount or any other details,” according to the article.

Gantt did not return a call from The Alamance News seeking independent confirmation of the settlement or that Gunn is providing some financial payment as part of it.

In a previous interview with The Alamance News, Gantt said that he did not know how long the relationship had been going on or when it began. At the time, he told the newspaper of his client’s suspicions, “You see things, and you don’t know what they mean immediately,” Gantt said in an interview at the time the lawsuit was filed. “Little things start happening, and when enough of them pile up, there’s an inescapable conclusion to come to. [Arthur Johns] began seeing things that made him uncomfortable, but it was only at some point after that that made him want to see what was going on.”

The couple had lived in Burlington, according to county tax records.

In the original lawsuit, Arthur Johns, now of Raleigh, sought up to $1 million in damages against Gunn, for alleged alienation of affection and “criminal conversation”; the Johns couple had been married 25 years, before they separated, according to the lawsuit. Arthur Johns alleged in his lawsuit that Gunn’s affair with his wife led to the breakup of their marriage.
Meanwhile, this week Gunn’s attorney, Nathaniel Smith, told The News & Observer that the “case has been settled and the suit will be dismissed in a matter of weeks.” He declined to comment to the Raleigh paper on whether Gunn has, in fact, agreed to pay Johns, as Gantt had told the Raleigh newspaper.

Gunn, now 63, was a Republican legislator first elected in 2010, who had served five terms (10 years) in the state senate, but announced in 2019 that he would not seek reelection. As senate majority whip, he was the fourth-highest ranking member in the state senate behind Republican senate leader Phil Berger before he announced his retirement.

Gunn did not respond this week to The Alamance News request for comment, but last fall when the lawsuit was filed, he told the newspaper that he disagreed with the allegations in it, considered the case “baseless and hurtful,” and would have no further comment.

The former state senator and his wife, Gayle Gunn, a former Alamance-Burlington school board member, have been married 38 years and have two grown sons. The couple lives in Burlington.


The lawsuit’s original allegations
In his suit, Arthur Johns claimed that Gunn seduced his wife – Karen Johns, who was employed as Gunn’s legislative assistant – and enticed her into “intimate and romantic relations, including illicit sexual behavior” that eventually destroyed his marriage. Arthur and Karen Johns married in April 1994 and separated in July 2019, the complaint said.

Arthur Johns recalled in his suit that he and his wife had worked to cultivate a loving relationship and a healthy home for themselves and their children. Their “loving marital relationship,” the complaint implied, likely would have remained intact, based on Arthur Johns’ account, had it not been for a pattern of conduct, behavior, and affections that her employer Gunn engaged in, which ultimately “induced” Karen Johns to end her marriage. Arthur and Karen Johns have two children; she also has a son from a previous relationship, according to the suit.

Over the next three years, Gunn encouraged Karen Johns to spend increasing amounts of time outside of work, “that otherwise would have been family time,” communicating almost constantly via text messages and phone calls, Arthur Johns alleged. Gunn also encouraged his assistant to travel alone with him; to spend “extended time alone” with him in Burlington, Raleigh, and Asheboro; and to accompany him to “social functions in the evening,” at which neither of their spouses was present, the lawsuit alleged.

Karen Johns began hiding her communication with Gunn from her husband, as well as her financial matters, behavior which Arthur Johns claimed in his lawsuit was a direct result his now-estranged wife’s involvement with Gunn.

Under his first claim of alleged alienation of affection, Arthur Johns asked for at least $30,000 – but potentially more than $1 million – in damages. He contended the alleged extramarital affair between Gunn and Karen Johns resulted in “injury to his emotional health and welfare, private and public humiliation,” lost wages, as well as the destruction of his marriage and family relationships.

The estranged husband Johns further alleged that Gunn’s conduct has adversely affected his physical health and employment, and his “emotional distress has caused him to seek and engage in therapy.”

Under his second claim of alleged “criminal conversation,” Arthur Johns also sought at least $30,000 – but potentially more than $1 million – in damages. (The term criminal conversation is used in the complaint to describe the alleged adultery between Gunn and his legislative aide.) In his suit, Arthur Johns contended that Gunn knew Karen Johns was married but pursued a “romantic and sexual relationship” with her anyway.

Arthur Johns sought a separate award for at least $30,000 – also potentially in excess of $1 million – in punitive damages against Gunn, plus attorney’s fees and court costs.