Dec. 31, 2004 — Sen. Usie Richards has taken a recent decision made against him by a Senate Ethical Conduct Committee, relative to claims of sexual harassment against him, to the legal arena.
On Thursday, attorney Jeffery Moorhead filed a lawsuit, on behalf of Richards, in Territorial Court on St. Croix against Senate President David Jones and members of the Senate Ethical Conduct Committee, who investigated the case.
Richards' action comes two weeks after the committee handed up a decision to Jones recommending a letter of reprimand to the Crucian senator, warning him to refrain from going near the work stations of the women who filed the complaints. (See Richards' Accuser Unhappy With 'Slap on the Wrist'")
The women had filed written notices of complaints with Jones in September, both alleging that Richards sexually harassed them.
In response to the complaints, Jones formed the five-member ethics committee to investigate the matter and selected Sen. Lorraine L. Berry as its chair. (See "Senate Investigating Complaint of Sexual Harassment").
The other senators who served on the committee and who were named as defendants in the suit are: Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Louis P. Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste and Almando "Rocky" Liburd.
In addition to his suit, which requests the judge rule the ethics committee's decision invalid, Richards also requested a temporary restraining order barring the disciplinary action against him in the meanwhile.
"My rights as outlined to me in a letter by Senate President Jones were violated," Richards said Thursday night in answer to why he filed the suit against his colleagues.
Richards said for one thing he was not privy to all the letters from the complainants that were sent to the media. He added neither he nor his counsel had the privilege of attending the various "secret" meetings, cross-examining the witnesses or calling witnesses of their own.
This violation of his "due process" rights along with the fact that Jones did not bring the matter to the full body for a vote was Richard's basis for his suit.
In the suit, Richards noted that the defendants had violated Section 812 of the 25th Legislature Rules, which states that a member of the Legislature "can only be punished as provided by a resolution adopted by the Legislature." Richards contends that the full body was not allowed to vote on the matter.
Jones said Friday afternoon that he took offense to Richard's statements that his rights were violated.
"I don't know where he is coming from, and I haven't seen the legal documents," Jones said. "But I don't know how he could say I violated his rights."
Jones said he did everything within his power to be fair and to abide by the rules of the Legislature.
"A formal complaint of sexual harassment was brought before me, and I had to take action," Jones said, adding he followed the rules of the Legislature by forming the Ethical Conduct Committee to investigate the complaints.
Jones said he had no part in how the committee handled the investigation but approved their recommendation based on the information he had received.
"In this case, the recommendation for a written reprimand was made, and I decided to approve it," Jones said. "It did not require any vote of the full body, since the disciplinary action had not reached that level."
Jones said, according to the Rules of the Legislature a full body vote has to be conducted if the ethics committee recommends censure or expulsion. Because this was not the case, there was no need to bring it to the full body.
Hill, who was off-island on vacation, said Friday he had not seen the legal documents, and he did not know the basis of Richard's clams.
"The committee acted based on the information we received," Hill said, adding several letters were also sent out to Richards and his attorney informing them of meetings but neither of them attended.
Berry said Friday afternoon she had not received a copy of the suit and would not comment on the matter.
"Our work as a committee is complete," Berry said, adding the committee did what it was supposed to do investigate the matter, forward its findings and recommendations to the president and provide a policy on sexual harassment, which will be incorporated in the Rules of the Legislature.
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