Virginia GOP Figures Could Face Depositions in Suit Against Insurer

September 26, 2005

If the Republican Party of Virginia’s lawsuit against its former insurer for refusing to cover a legal battle over the GOP eavesdropping scandal goes to trial, key GOP figures could again be subpoenaed and interrogated on the eve of this fall’s elections, according to the insurance company’s lawyer.

The party’s lawyer, Bryan K. Meals, asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis W. Dohnal for a summary judgment of nearly $1 million that Union Insurance Co. refused to pay to settle last year’s Democratic lawsuit over two conference calls top state GOP officers secretly intercepted.

But Union’s attorney, Christopher Spencer, asked Dohnal to reject the party’s claim and order it to pay court costs and the company’s legal fees. If the case goes to trial, he said, he would seek depositions with GOP figures linked to the 2002 case, including Anne P. Petera, a former top adviser to GOP gubernatorial nominee Jerry W. Kilgore.

“If we go into discovery, one thing we want to know is just what Ms. Petera’s role was,” Spencer told Dohnal.

The case stems from two confidential Democratic Party conference calls former state GOP executive director Edmund A. Matricardi III surreptitiously monitored and recorded, using a phone number and pass code a former state Democratic Party staffer gave him.

Matricardi and former state GOP chairman Gary R. Thomson resigned and pleaded guilty to a single federal count. In December, RPV agreed to pay $750,000 to settle the Democrats’ federal lawsuit that alleged the intercepts violated their privacy rights.

Petera was Kilgore’s most senior aide when he was attorney general. Matricardi has testified under oath that minutes after he secretly monitored the first Democratic conference call on March 22, 2002, he called Petera. He said Petera, then a member of the state and national Republican governing boards, was eager to hear details and assured him he had done nothing wrong.

Petera has vehemently and consistently contradicted Matricardi’s account, saying she told him immediately that his espionage was wrong. She said she made others in the attorney general’s office aware of what Matricardi had done, and it was Kilgore’s office that alerted police on the fourth day after the initial intercept.

Petera remained with the attorney general’s office after Kilgore stepped down earlier this year to run full time for governor. There was no immediate reply to a message left at her office seeking comment.

“We don’t think this will have any implication on this race at all. This is a suit between RPV and their insurance carrier,” said J. Tucker Martin, a Kilgore campaign spokesman.

But numerous Republican leaders for months have privately voiced frustration and dismay that the party revived in open court a scandal that had finally faded from the headlines just as Kilgore battles Democrat Tim Kaine in a very close race for governor.

Petera would not be the only prominent GOP figure who could face a deposition, Spencer said. Others could include former House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. and his chief of staff at the time, Claudia D. Tucker.

Matricardi testified that he briefed Wilkins, Tucker and other GOP officials about the first intercepted call on March 25, just hours before he monitored the second call.

Spencer rejected the suggestion that he was pressuring RPV politically.

“This is not, from Union’s perspective, a political fight,” Spencer said after the hourlong hearing. “Sure, there are others who, for various reasons, are interested in having Ms. Petera deposed, but I am not advancing anyone’s political agenda.”

The core of the case is the court’s determination of whether Matricardi and Thomson acted for the state GOP or, as the party contends, were rogue agents whose mischief was outside their party authority.

Dohnal asked Meals why Matricardi’s spying was not done to further the party’s goals.

“I don’t think Mr. Matricardi was listening in for his own personal consumption,” Dohnal commented at one point.

Spencer argued that Matricardi’s only motive was to give the state GOP an edge in a Democratic court challenge over the Republican-authored 2001 reapportionment. “You must remember that Matricardi was the executive director of RPV. He wasn’t just some muckety muck working on a phone bank,” Spencer said.

Also at issue was whether RPV paid the settlement plus $200,000 in attorneys fees, or whether RPV was merely a conduit for money it solicited from top party figures such as U.S. Sens. George Allen and John Warner and even Kilgore’s political action committee to keep the damaging litigation from lingering into this election year.

“Were these miscellaneous donations or were they designated donations,” Dohnal asked Meals.

Meals said donations pay for all RPV expenses and that gifts from big-name donors shouldn’t be any different from those from ordinary givers.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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