- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

RICHMOND Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the highest-ranking Republican in state government, yesterday urged House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. to resign because of a sexual harassment claim that was settled out of court.

Mr. Wilkins, Amherst Republican, has denied any wrongdoing, but Mr. Kilgore said he was concerned about "the appearance of impropriety" and about reports that the speaker is using his considerable political power to pressure legislators into letting him keep his job.

"It's wrong to put delegates in this very troubling position," Mr. Kilgore said.

As speaker, Mr. Wilkins makes committee appointments, controls the flow of legislation and issues parliamentary rulings in presiding over the 100-member House. The position is widely regarded as the second most powerful in the state, behind only the governor.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine also said Mr. Wilkins should resign unless he proves the harassment claim was untrue.

Mr. Wilkins did not immediately return phone calls to his office, and there was no answer at his home.

"It is in the best interests of the people that he step down as speaker," Mr. Kilgore said. "I'm asking him to do this for all Virginians and for the Republican Party."

He said he had not spoken directly to Mr. Wilkins but had told the speaker's lawyers that he planned to ask for the resignation. He would not say how they responded.

Mr. Kilgore said Republicans who criticized President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal can claim "the moral high ground" only if new leadership is installed in the GOP-controlled House. The Republican Party will be damaged if the Wilkins matter is allowed to fester, he said.

At his news conference, Mr. Kaine said he had talked to several female lobbyists who reported unwelcome sexual advances by other legislators.

"I would say it's a serious problem," Mr. Kaine said. "It's happened a lot, but with a small percentage of legislators. There are some who just don't get it."

He called for the legislature's Joint Rules Committee to establish a sexual harassment policy, including a mechanism for victims to file complaints without fear of reprisals.

Mr. Wilkins, 65, acknowledged Monday night that he reached an out-of-court settlement in November with a woman who accused him of groping her and pinning her against furniture in an office at the construction company he once owned in Amherst.

He denied the claim, however, and said he settled the case to keep the matter quiet in an election year when all 100 House seats and the top three statewide offices were on the ballot.

Mr. Kilgore said he believes Mr. Wilkins settled the case "to protect his position as speaker."

Mr. Wilkins' denial did not satisfy the House Republican Caucus, which grilled him for three and a half hours in a private meeting Monday night. The caucus will meet again Tuesday to decide what action to take if Mr. Wilkins does not resign.

The speaker, who spent his legislative career building the GOP's House majority, has rejected the growing calls for his resignation and has been talking individually with legislators to try to save his job.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Mr. Wilkins paid at least $100,000 to Jennifer L. Thompson, 26, to settle the sexual harassment complaint.

It said a confidentiality clause in the settlement barred the parties from discussing it publicly.

Another woman, Elizabeth Massie, on Saturday said Mr. Wilkins groped her at a Christmas party last year.

Mr. Wilkins and the hosts of the party denied the claim.


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