- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

RICHMOND (AP) — Democratic legislators can proceed with their lawsuit against the Republican Party of Virginia and several of its former top figures for eavesdropping on their phone calls, a federal judge has decided.

The Democrats will be limited to no more than $10,000, U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer ruled late Friday.

But the lawsuit could enable the Democrats to dredge up damaging political details in the run-up to next year’s statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general as well as all 100 House of Delegates seats.

Judge Spencer scheduled a July 6 pretrial conference with both parties and could set a date then for the case to go to trial.

The lawsuit contends that the privacy rights of Democrats in the House and Senate were violated when Republican operatives secretly monitored a conference call during which strategy was discussed for challenging the Republican-drawn 2001 redistricting plan in court.

Edmund A. Matricardi III, the former state Republican Party executive director, pleaded guilty to a federal felony last year, admitting that he obtained access codes to the call from a former Democratic Party staff member and used it to listen to calls March 22 and 25 of 2002.

Former state Republican Party Chairman Gary R. Thomson pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor in the case.

Matricardi testified in September that he told several key Republicans about the calls, including Mr. Thomson, former House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Mr. Wilkins’ former top aide, Claudia D. Tucker, and Anne Petera, the chief aide to Republican Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, next year’s presumptive Republican nominee for governor.

Neither Mr. Wilkins nor Miss Petera was charged in the case. Miss Petera remains with Mr. Kilgore’s office, which eventually notified the state police about the eavesdropping accusations.

Republican Party attorneys contend that the lawsuit should be dismissed because those involved in the incident were not carrying out party policy.

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