By Aliviah Jones
Capital News Service
RICHMOND -- Virginia Republicans resumed their call Monday -- less than two months before statewide elections -- to allow testimony from the two women who accuse Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, issued the call days after Fairfax filed a $400 million lawsuit against CBS Corp.
Obenshain accused Dels. John Bell, D-Loudoun, Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, and Cheryl Turpin, D-Virginia Beach, running competitive races for seats in the Senate where Fairfax presides, of blocking the hearings.
When allegations surfaced against Fairfax, representatives on both sides of the aisle called for his resignation. In February, alleged victims Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson agreed to a bipartisan hearing though a date was never set. There was debate whether the General Assembly is the best venue to hear criminal allegations.
Many House members were concerned a hearing would “not provide the accusers the fair and impartial forum they deserve,” wrote Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, in a letter on March 31 to Del. Robert Bell, R-Albemarle, who chairs the Courts of Justice. The Democratic consensus was that such a hearing could result in a “highly charged political environment,” overstep their legal authority and expertise and also establish a precedent.
“We are concerned that enacting the plan that you have proposed would establish an ill-defined precedent for the future, which could be abused,” Filler-Corn wrote.
Senate Republicans Monday returned to the message that Democrats are pursuing “their political ambitions ahead of the rights of these women and the interests of justice.”
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in February found a majority of Virginia voters, 84-12%, believed the House should wait for an investigation of the sexual assault accusations before proposing impeachment of Fairfax. The same poll found that only 12% of Virginia voters believe Fairfax's denial of the accusations, while 37% believe his two accusers, and 51% of those polled remained undecided.
No criminal charges have been filed against Fairfax to date.
Bell, Rodman and Turpin did not immediately respond to a reporter’s request for a statement.
The $400 million defamation lawsuit filed Thursday centered around the network airing two interviews with Watson and Tyson in February. The lawsuit claims the network did not fully verify the allegations against Fairfax and calls the allegations a “political hit job.”
Fairfax claims CBS used the interviews as a tactic to drive ratings related to the scandals that engulfed executive leadership in the state, and to also align with the #MeToo movement after the network faced its own internal scandals over allegations of sexual misconduct. In doing so, Fairfax claims CBS deliberately and recklessly tried to tarnish his career.
Carl Tobias, a constitutional law expert and law professor at the University of Richmond, said the lawsuit might contain plausible arguments, but it’s uncertain if the lawsuit will hold up in the courtroom or be resolved anytime soon.
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.