- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2004

RICHMOND — A federal judge has denied a request by Democratic lawmakers to broaden their questioning in a lawsuit over Republican eavesdropping to include several current and former top aides to Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer said in an order made public yesterday that the plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden of demonstrating the need for an additional 10 “non-party” depositions beyond the normal limit of five.

“Given that the cost and burden of most of the depositions far outweigh their utility to this litigation, plaintiffs’ motion is hereby denied,” Judge Spencer wrote.

The Democrats’ petition identified 12 persons for questioning, including Ken Hutcheson, the chief political adviser to Mr. Kilgore’s campaign for governor. It marked the first time Mr. Hutcheson had been linked publicly to the eavesdropping scandal.

Among the others named were Anne Petera, Mr. Kilgore’s chief of staff; Bernie McNamee, the attorney general’s former chief counsel; Elizabeth McClanahan, former chief deputy counsel; and Jeff Ryer, a former top aide to House Republican Leader H. Morgan Griffith.

The eavesdropping scandal resulted in guilty pleas from Edmund A. Matricardi III, former executive director of the state Republican Party, and two former party operatives.

Matricardi admitted using phone numbers and access codes he received from a disgruntled former Democratic Party staffer to tap into confidential Democratic conference calls on March 22 and March 25, 2002.

He was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $5,000.

Edward Fuhr, lead attorney for the state Republican Party, said Judge Spencer’s ruling “should lead to a focus on what this case is all about. The party does not condone and should not be held responsible for the unauthorized actions of certain individuals.”

House Democratic Leader Franklin P. Hall of Richmond said the ruling was disappointing.

“Clearly this is a serious matter, and we hope that we will have a chance to bring to justice all of those who participated, aided or abetted the commission of this felony,” Mr. Hall said.

Mr. Kilgore said late last month that he would make himself available for questioning by the Democrats for two weeks. The period ended Tuesday.

“Do they want to hear from him, or is it their desire to keep this dragging on for political purposes?” asked Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh. “Clearly their desire is to drag it out as long as possible.”

The civil suit contends “wanton, willful, reckless and malicious” behavior by Republican officials who secretly monitored and recorded the two conference calls in which Democratic legislators and their lawyers discussed a court battle over Republicans’ 2001 redistricting. Judge Spencer has limited the state Republican Party’s liability to $10,000 for each of the 33 plaintiffs.

Along with the Republican Party, the defendants are Matricardi, former state Republican Party Chairman Gary R. Thomson; former Republican House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. and his former chief aide, Claudia D. Tucker, and several “John and Jane Doe defendants.” Trial is set for Dec. 9 and 10.

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