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Va. Speaker Resigns in Sex Harassment Case

Government: House official admits to paying a woman at least $100,000 in hush money to settle the issue.

June 14, 2002|From Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. -- S. Vance Wilkins Jr. resigned as speaker of the Virginia House on Thursday after admitting he paid at least $100,000 in hush money to a woman who accused him of sexually harassing her.

The resignation came after a drumbeat of demands from top party officeholders over the last few days.

Wilkins, a Republican who was the state's most powerful legislator, said he would decide in the next few weeks whether he will also relinquish his seat in the House of Delegates. He has served for 24 years.

"It is in the best interest of the [Republican] caucus and in the interest of myself that I resign now," Wilkins said during a conference call with reporters.

Wilkins, 65, became the state's first Republican speaker in 2000 after leading the GOP to control of the House of Delegates for the first time in history.

Pressure had been growing for him to resign since last Friday, when the Washington Post reported that Wilkins had reached a settlement with Jennifer Thompson.

"I think under the circumstances the speaker did do the right thing, and I'm proud of him for taking a step I know was very hard for him to take," said Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, the House GOP whip. "I'm very saddened what has happened in the last week has overshadowed what a good job he did as speaker."

Thompson claimed that Wilkins groped her and pinned her against furniture last year at the building that housed the speaker's hometown office as well as the road-building company that he once owned.

Wilkins has denied he sexually harassed the woman.

She never filed a claim in court, and the settlement barred Wilkins and Thompson from ever discussing the allegations, the newspaper said.

As speaker, Wilkins had control over committee appointments, which gave him enormous influence over which bills lived and which died.

"This was a difficult decision for the speaker, but one that was correct given the serious allegations of the past several days," Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Under House rules, the interim speaker will be Delegate Lacey Putney, an independent who organizes with the Republicans. Putney, 73, is an ally of Wilkins and has served in the House for 40 years.

A permanent speaker could only be appointed by a vote of the full 100-member House.

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