Virginia General Assembly debates holding public hearing on Fairfax allegations

Posted at 6:19 PM, Apr 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-02 18:19:45-04

RICHMOND, Va - After the two women who accuse Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault gave their first television interviews and a day before Virginia's General Assembly reconvenes, Republicans and Democrats in a closely divided House of Delegate still have not come to an agreement on public hearings into the allegations.

During their interviews with CBS This Morning's Gayle King, both Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson called on Virginia's legislature to hold public hearings so that all parties involved could share their story.

Lt. Governor Fairfax, who categorically denies both allegations, maintained that law enforcement should investigate the accusations.  Fairfax's office said a public hearing would not get to the truth and "instead be a media circus used for partisan and political purposes."

In a statement circulated Tuesday afternoon, Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said Democrats have "rebuffed" efforts to organize a hearing in a bi-partisan manner.  The Republican-controlled House Courts of Justice committee would hold the hearing.

"Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson have said that they rightfully do not want their stories turned into partisan fodder and we wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, it appears that two survivors of sexual assault will be denied an opportunity to be heard in the bipartisan hearing they are requesting solely because Democrats in the House of Delegates are refusing to participate," Cox wrote in the statement.

House Republicans sent out a letter by Courts of Justice chairman Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) that outlines how they plan to hold a hearing into the allegations.

Prior to the comments by the Speaker, House Democrats confirmed conversations have been happening behind the scenes, but a spokesperson said their caucus does not see a way in which a hearing could held that is both impartial and not politically motivated.

In a letter dated March 31st, House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn wrote the allegations against Fairfax are "extremely serious" and must be investigated, but Filler-Corn said she has serious concerns a hearing conducted by the House would truly be impartial.

"As you know, we are a legislative body, and we do not have law enforcement investigative capabilities or legal authority such as subpoena powers. The majority of members of the House of Delegates are not trained to conduct hearings into criminal allegations, nor ask questions of the accusers or the accused in a public forum. In addition, we believe any such hearing would be of a political nature, particularly in an election year, and it would not provide the accusers the fair and impartial forum they deserve," Filler-Corn wrote.

The General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday to consider amendments and vetoes made by Governor Ralph Northam (D) to legislation and the state budget.

Tuesday, in her first television interview since coming forward with allegations that Fairfax raped her in her dorm room while both were students at Duke University back in 2000,  Meredith Watson said she believes Fairfax preyed on her because he knew she had previously reported being sexually assaulted.

"He knew that the year prior that I had been raped by someone and that nothing was done about it. And he was a very good friend to me," Meredith Watson told King. "Which is why I never would've expected anything like this from him."

Fairfax has said the encounter was consensual.  Watson said it was not.

"If you have to hold someone down, it's not consensual," Watson said.  "It was a huge betrayal. He was my friend. I don't understand how you do that to somebody that you've been a friend to and who's confided in you about things. I just don't understand how you do that "

In response to Watson's interview, a spokesperson for Fairfax released the following statement:

"Given that Ms. Watson is alleging that she did not raise her allegation against Mr. Fairfax because Duke mishandled her earlier rape allegation against a Duke basketball player, why is no one demanding further information from the University? Mr. Fairfax denies that he participated in any sexual assault. But he agrees that sexual assault allegations should be taken seriously by proper authorities and, where sexual assault has occurred, that resources and assistance are provided for a survivor."

Watson’s attorney previously said she was raped by a Duke University basketball player, and that Watson went to an unnamed dean “who provided no help and discouraged her from pursuing the claim further.”

Watson's interview was aired one day after Dr. Vanessa Tyson, the first woman to come forward, spoke with King about her claim that Fairfax forced her to perform a sex act at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Fairfax's office said two polygraph exams proved he is innocent of sexual assault allegations.

At an event Tuesday afternoon at Capitol Square, Ladelle McWhorter with Virginia Organizing, a statewide grassroots organization, said they researched how the Virginia General Assembly could conduct their own investigation into the Fairfax allegations, but it is not clear how the would proceed.

"We did make a statement calling for a fair and thorough investigation so that all sides could be heard. That`s what the Lt. Governor has called for as well. As far as the mechanisms go, I`m still in the dark about how that's going to work," McWhorter said.

During her interview with King, Watson said woman of color are treated differently than other survivors when they come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct by black men.  McWhorter said history backs up that statement and said it makes a fair hearing all the more important.

"We want to see these women have their hearing; we want to hear what they have to say; we want to listen to them," she said.

Virginia lawmakers reconvene at 12pm on Wednesday.

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