Commentary: Was Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax Falsely Accused?

by State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond)


At 9:00 am on Monday, February 6, 2019, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax’s meteoric political ascendency could not have been any higher or brighter.  Indeed, Fairfax was on the verge of being elevated to the highest office in the Commonwealth – Governor – due to the political blackface scandal that engulfed Governor Ralph Northam.  Indeed, if Governor Northam were to resigned – which many in the State Democratic Party where calling for – Justin Fairfax would automatically become the 74th Governor of Virginia.  

However, on that same Monday morning, less than three hours later, Lt. Governor Fairfax’s world was turned upside down when Professor Vanessa Tyson accused him of sexual assault from way back in 2004. Two days later, on February 8th, things got even worse.  Meredith Watson, a former college classmate of Justin Fairfax at Duke University, accused Fairfax of raping her 20 years earlier when they were Duke classmates. Within hours of the second accusation, the knives were sharpened. Almost all of those knives were held by Democrats.  Former Democratic Governor’s Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe, along with current Attorney General, Mark Herring, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Democratic Senate Caucus, the Democratic House Caucus and the State Democratic Party all called for Fairfax to resign.  Indeed, one legislator, Delegate Patrick Hope, announced that he was drafting Articles of Impeachment against Fairfax.  

During the avalanche of demands that Fairfax resign, hardly a single person asked the most basic question: Were the allegations true? No one asked:  Has there been an investigation?  Are the police involved? Are the accuser’s “facts” accurate?  Indeed, Due Process, the lynchpin of our Democracy, was completely ignored. Apparently, the Democratic Party, which promotes fairness and objectivity, went directly from accusation to guilty – skipping the indictment and trial stages.

There were a few political outliers who had the courage to stand up to the “Me Too” movement and say: “Wait! Let’s examine the facts and hear from the accused before we call for Fairfax’s ouster.”   Former Democratic Party Chairman Paul Goldman, conservative radio host John Fredericks, Congressman Bobby Scott, and U.S. Senator Mark Warner all tapped the brakes.  Indeed, I stated at the time on my radio show that not affording Justin Fairfax due process was the most disgraceful thing that I had seen in 35 years of practicing law.  

My comments were prophetic.  Once both women’s “allegations” were critically examined, timelines analyzed, and people with actual knowledge of the events questioned, it was discovered that both women’s stories were riddled with falsehoods, inaccuracies and misstatements.  

Vanessa Tyson, the first accuser, alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Fairfax in a hotel room at the 2004 Democratic Convention.  Tyson provided an exact date when she first met Fairfax on the Boston Convention floor.  She also described being assaulted in his hotel room and horribly traumatized. However, when Tyson’s allegations were investigated, there were major holes.  For instance, airline records show that Justin Fairfax was not even in the state of Massachusetts on the day that Tyson, then 28 years old, alleged he was.  In Tyson’s statement of Feb. 6, 2019, she said: “I never gave any form of consent,” to Fairfax. But two month later, Tyson admitted on national television that she willingly went to his hotel room, willingly kissed him in the doorway and “was OK with the kissing” (her exact words), willingly went with him as he “gently guides me to the bed” (her exact words), and that the kissing before they “were kissing lying down” was “completely consensual” and that she never ever told him to “stop”.  It was also discovered that after the alleged “assault”, Tyson called Fairfax wanting to meet with him in New York so that she could introduce him to her mother.  

However, the most disconcerting aspect of Tyson’s entire story was the alleged conspiracy between Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s close associates and Tyson to embarrass Fairfax in order to promote Stoney’s own grandiose gubernatorial aspirations.

Here are the undeniable facts. Mayor Stoney’s Chief political aid, Thad Williamson, and Williamson’s wife, Adria Scharf, were good friends with Vanessa Tyson since her days in Boston. On Sunday, February 3, 2019, on the eve of Fairfax’s possibly being elevated to Governor, text messages were discovered between Adria Scharf and Tyson labeled “Monday Action” plan. The “Monday Action” plan demonstrated that Scharf and Tyson intended to “out” Fairfax the following morning thus preventing him from being elevated to Governor. Lurking in the shadows of the Williamson/Scharf/Tyson plot was Mayor Levar Stoney who had his own design on the Governor’s Mansion.  

Ms. Watson’s own complaint against Fairfax was equally specious.  She claimed that she was raped by Fairfax when she and Fairfax were Duke undergrads.  Her lawyer sent Fairfax a letter saying, “my client would like to avoid media attention” and that Fairfax’s “past behavior is obviously disqualifying for any public office. We hope that he reaches the same conclusion. Please respond by 3p.m. today.”  Fairfax, unwilling to be blackmailed, refused.  Thereafter, Watson claimed that she was raped in a dorm room.  A New Jersey PR firm hired by Watson’s attorney then e-mailed the allegation to reporters who immediately made them public.

However, there were just a few problems with Watson’s story. First, no one at Duke University or the surrounding City/County including the academic office, the University Police force or anyone else, ever received a complaint. Second, Meredith Watson failed to mention that there was a third party in the room who will testify that Fairfax and Watson were engaging in consensual sex. That third party’s dorm room was the location of the encounter. Third, Watson had also accused former NBA basketball player Corey Maggette of rape.  Maggette told multiple media outlets that she (Watson) was lying! In Feb. 2019, long time Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked if he’d heard of such an allegation and said he had not. Watson claimed that she reported her Maggette rape allegation to an academic official at Duke University. Once again, no complaint was ever filed. Further, no one at Duke has confirmed such a conversation. Watson has presented no proof she reported any such allegations to anyone. Both of Watson’s allegations against Fairfax and Maggette have no evidence attached to them.  

Throughout it all, Fairfax remained stoic. He refused to buckle and simply said that the allegations were false. He demanded that police and prosecutors in both Boston, Massachusetts as well as Durham, North Carolina immediately investigate the matter. Importantly, he literally pleaded for the two accusers to file formal police reports so that an investigation could be undertaken. Both women have refused to file complaints and have avoided any form of investigation whether it be from press or police. They have been silent for over a year and a half as even more questions about their respective stories arise. 

Lastly, and what can only be described as poetic justice, the following occurred. When Tyson filed her complaint against Fairfax, she said, “I have no political motive,” and “I do not want to get further embroiled in this highly charged political environment.”  Months later after making these statements, Tyson filed to run for an Assembly seat in the State Legislature in California.  She was soundly defeated.

While it is absolutely necessary to listen to anyone who alleges that they are a victim of sexual assault, we must never forget that an accused 9must be afforded Due Process.  Sadly, “Justin Fairfax was denied Due Process at every stage. This is not just wrong, it is tragic.”

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Joe Morrissey is a Virginia State Senator representing the people of the 16th district.
Photo “Justin Fairfax” by Justin Fairfax. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Skip Plitt – C’ville Photography. CC BY-SA 3.0.


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