Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, drinks before opening the state’s Senate meeting during a session of the General Assembly in Richmond, Virginia, U.S, February 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jay Paul
RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) – Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, already under fire for an allegation of a 2004 sexual assault that he has denied, was accused on Friday of raping a fellow Duke University student in 2000, according to a law firm representing his accuser.
Representatives for Fairfax, 39, who is next in line to succeed the state’s embattled governor, Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat who has been under intense pressure to resign for his admitted racially offensive behavior, were not immediately available for comment.
The woman who made the new accusation, Meredith Watson, was “reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” the law firm that is representing her said in a statement.
The firm, New Jersey-based Smith Mullin, said Watson was “not seeking any financial damages,” and said her attorneys had notified Fairfax through his lawyers “that Ms. Watson hopes he will resign from public office.”
The latest accusation deepened a political crisis in Virginia that began with the revelation last week that Northam’s medical school yearbook page contained a racist photo, followed by admissions from Northam and the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, that each had darkened their faces to imitate black performers in separate incidents during the 1980s.
Should all three men be forced to resign, Democrats would lose the governorship to the state’s Republican speaker of the House of Delegates, who is second in the line of succession after Fairfax and Herring.
In its statement about Watson’s accusation, Smith Mullin said the attack by Fairfax “was premeditated and aggressive,” while also saying that Fairfax and Watson “were friends by never dated or had any romantic relationship.”
Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Richmond, Virginia; additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Leslie Adler