March 13, 2003 – A federal judge has given the go-ahead for a 1999 sexual harassment case to proceed against former acting Tourism commissioner Clement "Cain" Magras.
District Judge Raymond Finch said in a ruling issued on Tuesday that the Attorney General's Office could represent Magras in his capacity as a government official and also as an individual.
A hearing scheduled for later this month will set the dormant case in motion again, once a magistrate provides lawyers with a timetable to present their arguments. Attorneys for Magras said the case has been at a standstill for three years awaiting a decision as to their latitude in representing their client.
Plaintiff Heather Carty brought charges against Magras both in his capacity as acting Tourism commissioner and in his role as a private citizen. When the Attorney General's Office moved to defend him in both capacities, Carty's lawyer objected, saying that government lawyers were stepping outside of their legal jurisdiction in representing the private citizen Magras.
In his decision, Finch said the Justice Department has "broad authority" which allows it to defend Magras in both regards.
"Finch has issued a ruling allowing the Attorney General's office to take action," Assistant Attorney General Kerry Drue said on Wednesday.
Drue said the ruling also paves the way for the Justice Department to countersue Carty for defamation and emotional damage, alleging that "some of the assertions made in the complaint prevented him from becoming confirmed as Tourism commissioner."
Carty filed her initial complaint on April 27, 1999, immediately after the Senate Rules Committee approved Magras's nomination by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to become Tourism commissioner.
Turnbull said in broadcast remarks on May 31 that Attorney General Iver Stridiron, whom he had asked to look into the charges against Magras, "said he could find nothing" that would call for the governor to withdraw the nomination.
The full Senate rejected the nomination on June 17. Various tourism sector entities had gone on record as opposing the nomination because, they said, Magras lacked both expertise and experience for the position. St. Croix hospitality officials expressed concern that he would not represent their island's interests.
Carty's attorney, Lee J. Rohn, said on Thursday that she is glad the wait is over and that she is confident the case will be decided in favor of her client.
According to Carty, the alleged incident that triggered her complaint took place on Feb. 5, 1999, on St. Croix. She said Magras invited her out to dinner, then invited her to his hotel room to use the telephone after she had received a message on her pager as they were traveling.
Carty alleges that after she used the phone she was accosted by Magras and that he grabbed her and fondled her.
Drue said Magras gives a different account of events: that he answered a knock on the door of his hotel room to find Carty standing there, and that this surprised him because they had agreed to meet elsewhere on their way to dinner at the Galleon Restaurant.
Carty initially filed sexual harassment complaints with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the case before District Court, she is charging civil rights violations — specifically, employment discrimination — under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
At the time the incident is alleged to have occurred, Carty was employed in the Tourism Department as project coordinator on St. Croix. Rohn said she it still on the job with the department.
Magras, a longtime Democratic Party stalwart and former senator and Licensing and Consumer Affairs commissioner, left the territory after the Senate rejected his nomination. After living for two years in Florida, he returned to the territory and assumed the position of associate director of federal grants in the Office of Management and Budget on May 8, 2001. (See "'Cain' Magras back with $54K government job".)
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