William Kennedy Smith said Monday that he quit his job to confront what he called false allegations in a lawsuit by a former employee that he had sexually assaulted her five years ago.
"At this point I am focusing all my energies on dealing with the situation that confronts me. The damage has been done, but the truth will be sorted out," Kennedy told reporters. He is a doctor who founded and headed a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that helps disabled people in war-torn countries.
Appearing to choke back tears of anger or frustration, Smith, 43, admitted he had a five-month relationship with Audra Soulias in 1999, who at the time was a 23-year-old employee of his Chicago-based organization.
"I did have a consensual relationship with Audra Soulias in 1999," Smith said. "It was in no way forced or coerced. I cannot dignify her allegations by repeating them, even to deny them. So all I can say is that they are false."
Smith's attorney, Dan Webb, blasted the plaintiff as solely seeking money and picking as a target a member of one of the nation's most famous families.
Smith was acquitted of rape by a Florida jury in 1991, a case made more sensational by the presence of his uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), at the scene of a drunken night of revelry that ended at the family's West Palm Beach estate.
Soulias told reporters last week she wanted no other women to suffer her fate at the hands of Smith.
The suit described a night of heavy drinking in January 1999 that concluded with Smith dragging Soulias into his Chicago home and assaulting her. Because the alleged assault occurred so long ago, the suit revolves around telephone messages Smith left her earlier this year asking if she was making the claims later contained in her lawsuit.
Webb said Soulias's representative initially demanded $3.3 million from Smith. "Dr. Smith was determined not to cave in to that kind of extortion," he said.
Webb did not deny claims in the lawsuit that other women at Smith's organization, the Center for International Rehabilitation, had reached confidential settlements with Smith over sexual harassment allegations.
"There is no pattern of misbehavior by my client," Webb insisted.
Webb said Soulias recently declared bankruptcy after running up more than $90,000 in debts incurred because she sought an "opulent" lifestyle, though she is not working.