Nov. 11, 2004 The Senate Ethical Conduct Committee met all day Wednesday in the first of what could be several meetings to investigate a Senate employee's claim she was sexually harassed by Sen. Usie Richards.
Richards denied the allegations when they were made public in October, stating they were a political ploy to defame his character and influence voters in the upcoming November elections.
The Senate employee, in a letter to Senate President David Jones dated Sept. 20, charged that Richards had made sexual advances toward her on her way to the Senate Chambers in St. Thomas. The lady serves as a staff member for both Sens. Ronald Russell and Luther Renee.
Richards said he learned in August that Jones was considering sexual harassment charges against him, and he said Jones had not spoken to him about the matter until Sept. 28, when he received a letter from 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 at that time. He said he was awaiting vindication from the Ethical Conduct Committee.(See "Senator Denies Sexual Harassment Charges ").
Sen. Lorraine Berry, chair of the newly formed committee, said Thursday that she couldn't divulge any information at this time. "It is confidential," she said. "At some point, the public will know, but not at this juncture." There will be further meetings, Berry said, but she would not predict how many there may be. "It's a process," she said.
The committee comprises Sens. Berry, Douglas Canton, Louis Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste and Almando "Rocky" Liburd. Berry said she could not name the persons from whom the committee took testimony on Wednesday. She stressed the meetings are strictly confidential.
Berry said Richards, through his attorney Jeffrey Moorhead, asked for the hearing to be held before the Nov. 2 elections, and it was scheduled for Oct. 25. However, Moorhead subsequently wrote Berry seeking a continuance because Jn Baptiste would be off island on that date. Berry said Jn Baptiste had initially agreed to the Oct. 25 date, but later said he could not be back in time.
Berry said, though the continuance was granted, the committee could have met without Jn Baptiste. "All members don't have to be present," she said. With a five-member committee, three would constitute a quorum.
The committee's recommendation will go to Jones. If the recommendation has to do with censure or suspension, it goes to the full Senate for a vote, Berry said. If the committee recommends censure or reprimand, it would require eight votes to be approved. If the committee recommends expulsion, it would require 10 votes, Berry said.
It appears that Richards has held on to his Senate seat. Only a drastic turn around when the absentee ballots are counted could oust him.
It was not possible to reach Richards or Moorhead Thursday morning.
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