- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

RICHMOND — A tentative settlement has been reached in a lawsuit against the state Republican Party over the state party’s former executive director’s eavesdropping on Democratic conference calls, sources close to the case said yesterday.

The settlement calls for the plaintiffs — 33 Democratic legislators — to be paid about $750,000, said the sources, who asked not to be identified.

The settlement has yet to be signed by all of the parties, the sources said.

“The ink isn’t on the paper yet,” one source told the Associated Press. The agreement was reached late last week after about two weeks of negotiations, the sources said.

The lawsuit named the Republican Party, former state Republican Party executive director Edmund A. Matricardi III, former state party chairman Gary R. Thomson, former House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. and Mr. Wilkins’s former aide, Claudia D. Tucker.

Representatives of the Republican Party declined to comment, and no Democratic Party officials could be reached last night.

The trial that is on the federal court docket for two days beginning Thursday would be an opportunity for the Democrats’ attorneys to grill past and present top Republican insiders under oath before a crowd of reporters.

“It’s fair to say that the purpose of this suit has always had two components. The first is to learn more facts about who knew what when, and much has been learned in the discovery process,” said Kenneth C. Smurzynski, attorney for the plaintiffs.

The second component was to compensate the Democrats for violating their privacy rights and deter the Republican Party from future eavesdropping, he said. He declined to talk about the possibility of a settlement.

Motions that the Democrats have filed in U.S. District Court clearly demonstrate that their chief interest was what role Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore or his key aides played. Mr. Kilgore’s office alerted the state police to the eavesdropping, but questions in writing and in oral depositions show that Democrats wanted to tie the case to Mr. Kilgore, the presumed Republican nominee for governor next year.

“Kilgore has always tried to present himself as the white knight in this, but all he really did is bury his head in the sand,” Mr. Smurzynski said last week.

Mr. Smurzynski said he was thinking about putting Mr. Kilgore on the witness stand to determine what he knew about the calls intercepted on March 22 and March 25 2002 and when he knew it. Anne P. Petera, a top administrative aide in Mr. Kilgore’s office, and Ken Hutcheson, Mr. Kilgore’s gubernatorial campaign manager, were on the list of witnesses.

“The depositions all reveal that this wiretapping got uncovered and prosecuted because of the actions of the office of the attorney general, and but for those actions, getting it to the police promptly, who knows whether this would ever have gotten uncovered,” said Edward Fuhr, attorney for the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV). “You’ve got to see the Democrats’ pleadings for what they are: political posturing.”

The Democrats’ star witness would have been Matricardi. As the party’s day-to-day staff manager, defeating Democrats was his life. He would arrive at RPV headquarters early each morning and often toil into late evening, organizing fund-raisers, campaign strategy, rallies, meetings, conventions and more.

He pleaded guilty in 2003 to intercepting a wire communication, a felony, and was sentenced to three years’ probation. He admitted using a number and pass code that he received from a former Democratic operative, tapping into the calls, making notes and recording parts of the calls.

He has testified under oath and in written replies to questions from the Democrats’ lawyers that he gleefully shared what he learned with several influential Republicans — including Miss Petera, Mr. Hutcheson, Mr. Wilkins and Miss Tucker.

Mr. Wilkins became the first Republican House speaker in 2000 and resigned in 2002 amid reports that he paid a woman $100,000 to keep quiet about accusations that he molested her.

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