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UR professor Thad Williamson named in Fairfax defamation lawsuit against CBS

<p>A portrait of Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. <em>Photo courtesy of the Lieutenant Governor's website</em></p>

A portrait of Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. Photo courtesy of the Lieutenant Governor's website

Information added to Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax’s defamation lawsuit against CBS includes text messages that suggest University of Richmond professor Thaddeus Williamson encouraged one of Fairfax’s sexual assault accusers to go to the press. 

Fairfax’s original lawsuit was filed in September after Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, who both accused Fairfax of sexual assault, gave interviews on CBS This Morning in early April. Fairfax accused CBS of amplifying what he called false claims.

Fairfax has denied all sexual assault allegations. 

The amended lawsuit, filed on Oct. 3, included private messages between Adria Scharf, who is Williamson’s wife and executive director of the Richmond Peace Education Center, and Tyson. Tyson claimed that Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004 at the Democratic Party’s national convention in Boston. 

The messages between Scharf and Tyson were sent on Feb. 2 and 3 after Tyson posted about the sexual assault on a private social media account. 

In a message sent on Feb. 3, Scharf told Tyson that “[N]ortham may be forced to resign tomorrow.” Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation would have resulted in Fairfax becoming governor. 

“Thad and I think your story should get to the local press TODAY, rather than later,” Scharf wrote in the same text to Tyson. “Do you want me to share screen shot [of the post] and your contact info (tell me what to share) with a few local respected journalists....or alternatively give you their info?”   

Tyson responded to the text, “You can share the screenshot with whomever.”

Joseph Abboud, associate for Katz, Marshall & Banks LLP, the legal counsel representing Tyson, gave a statement on behalf of Tyson’s legal counsel via email that said Williamson had been made aware of the allegation in 2017. 

“In October 2017, [Tyson] confided in [Williamson] that Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention,” according to the statement. “Dr. Williamson responded with concern as a friend, not as a political actor. Although Dr. Tyson does not know who gave the screenshot of her private Facebook post to the media, she believes Dr. Williamson was not involved.”

The messages from Feb. 2 included in Fairfax's amended lawsuit show Tyson gave Scharf permission to share a screenshot of her post and that Scharf said she had shared it with Richmond activists. 

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Media first reported Tyson's allegation on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. The allegation came amidst ongoing calls for Northam’s resignation following the surfacing of a photograph of Northam in either blackface or a Ku Klux Klan outfit in a 1984 yearbook.

Williamson is a current candidate for Richmond’s 5th District City Council seat. He wrote in an email to The Collegian that Tyson was a friend and that his support for her was not linked to his political career.

“My wife and I have known Dr. Vanessa C. Tyson for over fifteen years and respect her greatly as a friend and colleague,” Williamson wrote. “Our support for Dr. Tyson, including communications included in Mr. Fairfax’s complaint, is based on our support for a friend and our belief in the right of women and survivors to come forward, be heard, and not be dismissed. The allegation or implication that our support for Dr. Tyson is based on the desire to benefit the political career of any elected official is false.”

Lauren Burke, Fairfax’s communications director, questioned the timing of Tyson’s allegation. 

“If you feel you needed to tell Virginia that somebody’s a bad person, why does it take all this signal and work sneaking around,” Burke said. “Why not just say it? Why is it a big deal?”   

Burke said she questioned whether Williamson was informed of the now-reported sexual assault when Williamson and Tyson attended graduate school together at Harvard University. 

“One of the outstanding questions that we have been wondering about it is ‘When did he first hear of this allegation?’ which one would think would be back in Massachusetts but apparently was not,” Burke said.

Burke said Fairfax knew of no problem between him and Tyson. 

“We knew nothing and he had heard nothing from her for 13 years,” Burke said. “So it was a very big shock.” 

Burke said the political angle of Williamson’s involvement was clear. 

“I think the connections are obvious,” Burke said. “Obviously Thad Williamson worked for Levar Stoney ... I think the political dots are easy to connect.”

Fairfax said in the amended lawsuit that Tyson had made her allegation through his political rivals to stop him from becoming governor.  

According to the lawsuit, “Fairfax had indeed been warned in the fall of 2018 that should Fairfax announce his intention to run for Governor in 2021, Stoney, Williamson, and Scharf intended to promote a supposedly damaging, uncorroborated accusation against Fairfax involving Tyson in an attempt to harm Fairfax personally and professionally and to derail his political future.”

In the emailed statement from Tyson’s legal counsel, Tyson's counsel said the accusation did not have a political purpose. 

“Lt. Gov. Fairfax’s claim that she was acting on behalf of his political rivals is simply false, as is the allegation that she coordinated with Dr. Williamson or anyone else to publically [sic] release her allegations for political impact,” according to the statement. 

No criminal charges have been filed against Fairfax to date. 

Contact news writer Emma Davis at

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