Oct. 6, 2003 Sen. Usie Richards Tuesday denied allegations from a V.I. Legislature employee that he sexually harassed her, stating the allegations were a political ploy to defame his character and influence voters in the upcoming November elections.
The young lady, in a letter to Senate President David Jones dated Sept. 20, charged that Richards had made sexual advances towards her on her way to the Senate Chambers in St. Thomas. The young lady serves as a staff member for both Sens. Ronald Russell and Luther Renee.
Richards, in a press release issued Tuesday, said he learned in August that Jones was considering sexual harassment charges against him. Jones never spoke to Richards about the matter, though, until Richards approached him.
Jones told Richards he needed to speak to him about sexual harassment allegations. However, Richards did not hear from Jones again until Sept. 28, when he received a letter sent by Jones informing him of the allegations and Jones' plan to establish an Ethical Conduct Committee to investigate the matter.
"Obviously these allegations are a culmination of more than a month of discussions among Sens. Jones, Russell, Renee and members of their staff in their attempts to silence me as the Minority Leader of the 25th Legislature and to influence the voters," Richards said.
Richards said he was awaiting vindication from the Ethical Conduct Committee.
Jones has selected five senators to serve on the committee — Lorraine Berry, who will chair the committee, Norman Jn Baptiste, Louis Hill, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Douglas Canton Jr.
The committee, which has until Oct. 20 to present Jones with its findings and recommendations, has not yet met nor heard from both parties involved. Berry said they would meet soon.
"I want to ensure the committee embarks on procedures that do not violate the parties involved," Berry said, adding that she is gathering information before meeting with the rest of the committee.
Jn Baptiste said he recollected two other times the Legislature has established an Ethical Conduct Committee to investigate allegations of misconduct.
He said the first time was in the 21st or 22nd Legislature, but it was before he was a senator and he doesn't know the details.
In the 24th Legislature, according to Jn Baptiste, there was an allegation brought against a post audit employee by a staff member of one of the senators, whom Jn Baptiste did not wish to name.
Jn Baptiste declined comment on the allegations brought against Richards. "One is innocent until proven guilty," he said.
The Legislature's policy does not specifically define how to handle sexual allegations, Jn Baptiste said, adding the committee was awaiting documents from Yvonne Tharpes, chief legal counsel, to guide them in the process.
Jn Baptiste would not specify what penalties Richards would face if found guilty. However, according to the Legislature's policy, senators can be penalized by censure or expulsion. Jn Baptiste said if the young lady involved was found to have acted "frivolously" she would be penalized.
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