Virginia lieutenant governor seeks vindication in court

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FILE – In this Tuesday July 9, 2019 file photo, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax welcomes visitors at the start of the special session on gun issues at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va. A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 over whether he should toss out a libel lawsuit filed by Virginia’s lieutenant governor. Justin Fairfax sued CBS in federal court in Alexandria after it aired interviews with two women who have accused him of sexual assault.(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax says he’s done everything he can to clear his name after two women accused him of sexual assault: he’s requested police investigations, taken a lie-detector test and begged the media to report on evidence he says exonerates him.

On Friday, he tried another approach as he went to federal court in Alexandria to pursue a libel lawsuit against CBS Corp. for airing interviews of the two women who accused him in a way that he says insinuated his guilt.

CBS’ lawyers on Friday asked the judge to toss out the lawsuit — they say they reported the accusations fairly and allowed Fairfax to respond with written statements after he declined a live interview. They also argue that Fairfax can’t meet the high legal standard for proving libel against a public figure, and that his real goal in filing the lawsuit is to give him a forum to attack his accusers.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga heard arguments but made no ruling, promising to issue a decision on the motion to dismiss “shortly.” If he allows the suit to go forward, Fairfax’s lawyers can begin taking depositions of people connected to the case who they say will further prove his innocence.

After Friday’s hearing, Fairfax said in a lengthy interview that the evidence already exists to prove he was wrongfully accused. While he’s particularly angered by CBS News’ reporting, he said media outlets across the board have been afraid to acknowledge they engaged in a rush to judgment when two women came forward with accusations earlier this year at a time when Fairfax was poised to rise to the governor’s post as Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam faced intense calls to resign over a blackface photo that appeared in Northam’s medical school yearbook.

In particular, he says he has offered compelling evidence to prove that his second accuser, Meredith Watson, lied when she claimed Fairfax raped her in 2001 when both attended Duke University.

“It’s so obvious to people who are paying attention. … The inconvenient truth is Meredith Watson fabricated her story,” said Fairfax, who was not required to attend Friday’s hearing but did so voluntarily.

He points to a variety of evidence, but the most compelling piece, he says, came in July when he told law enforcement that there was an eyewitness to the sexual encounter he had with Watson who can verify it was consensual. Fairfax has declined to say publicly who that individual is, and he did not disclose the existence of an eyewitness until several months after CBS aired its interviews with Watson and the other accuser, Vanessa Tyson.

But Fairfax says CBS has known about the eyewitness since at least July and refused to update its reporting. Moreover, he says Watson and her attorney have refused to comment on whose dorm room the alleged assault occurred in and whether there was indeed an eyewitness.

“Because the media won’t ask these questions, we have to file this federal civil lawsuit” to get to the truth, Fairfax said.

A spokesman for Watson and her attorney, Nancy E. Smith, declined to comment on whether Watson can confirm the existence of an eyewitness, referring instead to an earlier statement from Smith in which she said, “We look forward to everyone testifying under oath, now that this matter is in court.”

Fairfax said there is also evidence that Tyson lied about her accusation that Fairfax assaulted her during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax says Tyson claims to have first met him on a day when Fairfax wasn’t even in Boston. He also questioned why Tyson didn’t feel empowered to tell people she was assaulted at the time, given that she volunteered for a rape crisis center.

Lee Levine, the lawyer for CBS, defended the network’s reporting.

“All CBS was doing was providing both sides of the story, and letting viewers make their own decision,” he said.

Fairfax’s lawyer, Sara Kropf, said the broadcasts went beyond neutral reporting, and included sympathetic comments from newscasters after the interviews aired, including one who commented, “It feels like she was forced.”

The allegations against Fairfax, a Democrat, came in February when Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam faced calls to resign after the blackface photo emerged on his yearbook page. But the allegations against Fairfax blunted the momentum for Northam’s resignation. Both Northam and Fairfax have remained in office, as has Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, who admitted around the same time that he had worn blackface in college.

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