The Republican Party of Virginia is shirking its responsibility in a 2002 eavesdropping scandal by suing its insurer for the cost of the settlement, state Democrats said yesterday.
Democrats also accused the Republicans of lying in court documents that led to a nearly $1 million settlement in December to 33 Democratic lawmakers whose conference calls were listened to by Republican officials.
The state Republican Party is suing its liability insurance carrier — Union Insurance Co. of Lincoln, Neb. — saying the firm breached its contract by refusing to cover the $750,000 settlement fee and $200,000 in attorneys’ fees.
The party contends that it should have been covered because it did not know about or condone the eavesdropping on calls among Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Mark Warner. In 2002, state Democrats held calls on March 22 and 25 to discuss their strategy for challenging the Republicans’ legislative redistricting plan.
Court documents dated July 2, 2004, show that party attorneys listed “none” in a section titled “relevant insurance agreements.”
State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple said she was “completely astounded” to find out that the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) had insurance.
“I don’t like being lied to,” the Arlington Democrat said. “I think that’s awful, and it bothers me that an important entity like RPV would be willing to lie both to us and to the court.”
Republican Party Executive Director Shawn Smith said his group did not lie, noting an April 2, 2004, document from the insurer.
“We hereby inform you that the conduct alleged in the suit is not covered under the policies. Therefore, Union Insurance Company denies coverage,” the letter reads.
Mr. Smith said that letter is why the July 2004 document lists that the party has no relevant insurance coverage.
“This is a contractual dispute between the Republican Party of Virginia and our insurance carrier. We’re asking the courts to interpret the terms of our insurance policy,” he said.
The party’s apparent lack of insurance was a consideration in deciding to settle the case, said Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, Tazewell County Democrat.
“If we decided it would cost the RPV nothing, we would have been much less likely to settle,” he said. “We felt like the settlement that was offered was one that clearly indicated the Republican Party recognized they’d done something wrong and they were willing to pay for it.”
Delegate Robert H. Brink, Arlington Democrat, said the party has avoided taking responsibility.
“They want to make dirty tricks just another line item in their budget,” he said. “That’s wrong, and they ought to be held accountable to it.”
Republican Party Executive Director Edmund A. Matricardi III and Chairman Gary R. Thomson were convicted in the case and are no longer with the state party.
The state Democratic Party has liability insurance for its officers, although it does not cover criminal misconduct, said spokesman Mark Bergman.
The lawsuit puts the issues back in the headlines with a gubernatorial election less than four months away.
Republican candidate Jerry W. Kilgore was attorney general when the crimes occurred and was the person who alerted state police.
Democrats have questioned Mr. Kilgore about why he waited until three days after the first conference call had been recorded and why he did not warn Democrats that their second call also would be intercepted.
Mr. Kilgore testified in a deposition that he reported the crime when he first learned that top Republican officials had eavesdropped.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine, the current lieutenant governor, has said Mr. Kilgore failed to do his job in the matter.
State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, is running for governor as an independent.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.