RICHMOND, Nov. 2 -- Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) was questioned Tuesday in connection with a lawsuit filed by Democratic legislators regarding political eavesdropping by top officials in the state Republican Party.
Kilgore, the likely GOP nominee for governor in 2005, was questioned for nearly two hours as the nation went to the polls to vote in the presidential election.
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The lawsuit, scheduled to be heard in December, stems from eavesdropping by Republicans on two conference calls among Democrats as they planned strategy during a redistricting battle in March 2002. Kilgore's office reported the eavesdropping after his staff became aware of it.
Attorneys for Democratic lawmakers said they were interested in how and when Kilgore discovered that the Republican Party's top staff official had secretly listened to the Democrats.
The attorney for the 33 Democrats named in the suit said Kilgore's responses during the deposition indicated that his handling of the situation merits further scrutiny. The lawyer said the responses contradict previous statements from Kilgore's office.
A transcript of the proceeding was not made public Tuesday.
"I think everything we learned today vindicates this [legal] action," said attorney Ken Smurzynski, adding that "it appeared that what they did was more extensive than what they previously admitted."
A spokesman for Kilgore disputed Smurzynski's characterization of the events, saying that the attorney general's office acted appropriately and that Kilgore's record on the matter has been consistent.
"They need some new talking points," said J. Tucker Martin, Kilgore's spokesman. "This is no longer about justice and only about trying to create negative headlines about the attorney general."
In a statement, Kilgore said: "As most are aware, the circumstances that led to this case would never have become public had it not been for the actions of my office in turning over information to the State Police."
Kilgore volunteered last summer to submit to questioning under oath by the Democrats' attorneys but said the offer was good for only two weeks. Democrats would not agree to the timetable.
The eavesdropping incident inflamed Virginia politics and prompted a criminal investigation, which led to criminal charges and several resignations in the state party organization.
The suit names former state GOP executive director Edmund A. Matricardi III, former state party chairman Gary R. Thomson, former House speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., former Wilkins aide Claudia D. Tucker and the Republican Party of Virginia.
Matricardi pleaded guilty to felony eavesdropping; Thomson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of helping to disseminate the contents of the call; and Tucker pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for listening to one of the calls.
Kilgore's office alerted the Virginia State Police that Matricardi intercepted the March 2002 calls. Democrats contend that Kilgore's top lieutenants knew of Matricardi's actions hours or even minutes after he took them, yet waited until a second call was intercepted to tip police.
Democrats are seeking monetary compensation from the Republican Party of Virginia and others. Republicans have accused Democrats of filing the lawsuit in an attempt to tarnish Kilgore's reputation before next year's election.
During testimony nearly a year ago, Matricardi said that Wilkins approved his actions and that Matricardi conferred with Anne Petera, Kilgore's director of administration, after listening to the first conference call. Wilkins and Petera have denied those statements.