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Sexual Harassment Case to be Tried in May

Jan. 8, 2009 – Sexual harassment charges that were first brought against Sen. Usie Richards by two female Legislature employees five years ago will be heard in the District Court of the Virgin Islands in May.
Complaints were filed in District Court in December 2006. Since that time, reams of documents have been filed in support or disputing the charges, including several motions to dismiss, one as recently as Dec. 31. That motion was denied and the trial will proceed in May, according to court documents.
Richards, outgoing president of the 27th Legislature, has denied all charges, claiming the allegations were a political ploy to defame his character and influence voters in the 2004 elections.
The women – DeeDee Byas, who in 2003 was assistant Legislature counsel, and Audra Richards, project coordinator for Senator Luther Renee and Senator Ronald Russell – are suing Sen. Richards in his personal capacity and his official capacity, and the V.I. Legislature. Both women lost their jobs.
Until Tuesday, Richards was represented by St. Croix attorney Jeffrey Moorhead, who was counsel for Richards in his personal capacity, in his official capacity, and for the Legislature of the V.I.
Moorhead filed a motion in District Court Tuesday to withdraw as counsel of record for Richards in his personal capacity, citing lack of payment for his services. Moorhead claims Richards has "failed to properly communicate or pay attorney's fees." Moorhead says he "cannot afford to maintain such a high and outstanding invoice for such a long period of time."
Moorhead's motion did not address whether he will continue to represent Richards in his official capacity, or the Legislature." Calls to Moorhead were not returned Thursday, nor were calls to Moorhead's co-counsel, Claudette V. Ferron.
Reached at a meeting Thursday afternoon, Richards neither confirmed nor denied knowledge of Moorhead's action. He deferred further comment.
The charges became public in September 2003 when a female Senate employee wrote then Senate President David Jones that Richards had made sexual advances toward her.
A Senate Ethics Committee was subsequently formed and several more women brought complaints against Richards. When the committee issued its findings in 2004, it decided not to penalize Richards, instead issuing an official reprimand admonisbhing him to "desist from violating the Legislature's zero tolerance sexual harassment policy."
The women were disappointed with the decision and decided through their attorney Karin Bentz to pursue further action. (See "Richard's Accuser Unhappy With 'Slap on the Wrist'".
Richards was also disappointed with the committee's decision, denying the charges. Through Moorhead, he filed a 2004 lawsuit in Territorial Court on St. Croix against Senate President David Jones and members of the Senate Ethical Conduct Committee, who investigated the case in which he won a partial victory.
Superior Court Judge Edgar D. Ross ruled that the 25th Legislature "is without authority to impose punishment on the plaintiff that exceeds the life of the 25th Legislature or otherwise punish the plaintiff after it adjourns." Moorhead asked the judge to remove the letter of reprimand from Richards' personal file. Ross denied that request.
Byas and Audra Richards are suing in separate actions, scheduled to be heard beginning May 18 before Chief District
Court Judge Curtis V. Gomez. The trial period, including jury selection, is expected to run until June 22.

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