RICHMOND — A lawyer for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax wrote to prosecutors in Massachusetts and North Carolina this week, saying Fairfax wants to testify under oath about sexual assault allegations that two women made against him in February, when he seemed on the verge of assuming the governorship.
Fairfax (D), who calls the allegations false and politically motivated, is pressing prosecutors to open criminal investigations into both cases, arguing that will clear him.
“Allowing a very public accusation of a serious crime to go without an impartial law enforcement investigation to determine its truth or falsity would be a travesty — denying justice to the accuser, the accused, and the public,” Fairfax attorney Barry J. Pollack wrote in letters dated Wednesday to prosecutors in Boston and Durham, N.C.
Renee Nadeau Algarin, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who has jurisdiction over Boston, declined to comment.
“We normally don’t discuss potential sexual assault investigations when criminal charges have not [been] issued, no matter who is asking us to do otherwise,” she said in an email.
Prosecutors in Durham did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Lawyers for the women were dismissive of Fairfax’s request — one called it a “stunt” — and reiterated their desire to testify before the state legislature, something House Republicans have sought but Democrats have resisted.
The lieutenant governor was considered a rising Democratic star and a leading contender for governor in 2021 before early February, when the women went public with allegations that he sexually assaulted them in the early 2000s.
Vanessa Tyson, a college professor in California, accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex after they met at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Meredith Watson said Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2000, when they were undergraduates at Duke University in Durham. Fairfax says both encounters were consensual.
“Lieutenant Governor Fairfax’s letter to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office is another political stunt that shows his lack of respect for survivors of sexual violence,” Tyson’s lawyer, Debra Katz, said in a written statement. “As a former prosecutor, the Lieutenant Governor certainly knows that potential targets of criminal investigations do not get to direct prosecutorial decisions.”
Watson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, said in a written statement: “If Justin Fairfax wanted the public to know the truth, he would have welcomed the hearing in the Virginia legislature requested by Ms. Tyson & Ms. Watson. All parties will testify under oath and present witnesses. That is the last thing in the world Fairfax wants and he has fought it at every turn.”
Fairfax’s letter seemed at least partly intended to draw attention to the fact that Tyson has not initiated a criminal complaint against him in Boston — something she indicated early on that she would pursue. Watson said from the start that she would not go to law enforcement.
In mid-February, Katz announced that she was working to schedule a meeting between Tyson and staff for Rollins, after the prosecutor offered assistance and an opportunity to file a criminal complaint.
Asked Thursday whether that meeting had taken place, Katz said Tyson has had only “initial contact” with prosecutors.
“At this point, our focus is to try to get the Virginia legislature to conduct hearings, but all options remain on the table for her,” Katz said in an interview. Katz acknowledged that any plans for a hearing “are somewhat at a standstill.”
The deadline for bringing charges in the case is arguably next month, given that the statute of limitations for sexual assault in Massachusetts is 15 years. But Rollins told The Washington Post in February that prosecutors have more time because the clock paused when Fairfax left the state.
Just days before the women went public, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was consumed by a scandal over a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. Northam appeared to be on the verge of resigning. Fairfax would have succeeded him, but Northam defied calls to step down.
Fairfax has likewise stayed in office, as has Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who in the same week admitted to wearing blackface for a costume party in college.