The law firm that employs Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) has placed him on leave pending an external investigation into sexual assault allegations leveled against him.
The firm, Morrison & Foerster, announced the decision Friday in a statement first published by the National Law Journal.
“The firm has retained outside counsel to conduct an investigation. During the investigation, Justin Fairfax has taken a leave of absence from Morrison & Foerster,” Larren Nashelsky, the firm’s chair, said in the statement. “Justin has agreed to cooperate with the firm’s investigation.”
“We take the allegations against Justin very seriously,” Nashelsky continued. “As a firm, we believe that it is important to seriously listen to any allegation of sexual assault or harassment, and to treat all persons making such allegations with respect and sensitivity.”
Virginia’s part-time legislature convenes from January through March. As a result, state lawmakers have full-time jobs outside the Capitol that provide the majority of their income. The same is true of the lieutenant governor, who presides over and breaks ties in the state Senate.
Fairfax, a 39-year-old former federal prosecutor, left his job as a white-collar defense attorney at Venable in northern Virginia in January, and joined Morrison & Foerster in September.
Two women have accused Fairfax of sexual assault. The more recent allegation emerged on Friday, when Meredith Watson accused Fairfax of raping her when the two were classmates at Duke University in 2000.
Days earlier, Vanessa Tyson, who met Fairfax at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, publicly accused Fairfax of physically coercing her into performing oral sex during an encounter that began as consensual. Tyson said she was moved to come forward when it appeared that Fairfax might replace embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
Northam is under pressure to resign after a racist photo from his medical school yearbook page surfaced on Feb. 1. Northam initially indicated that he was in the photo, which shows a person wearing blackface next to someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan uniform. But the following day, he denied that either person in the photo was him. He has since refused to resign.
Fairfax has vehemently denied the sexual assault allegations against him. But after Watson made her allegation on Friday, state-level and national Democrats, many of whom had been taking a wait-and-see approach, demanded Fairfax’s resignation en masse.
An attorney for Tyson has said she is prepared to testify at any impeachment proceedings against Fairfax. Virginia Del. Patrick Hope (D) raised the prospect of initiating an impeachment process against Fairfax on Sunday, but has since said that “additional conversations need to take place” first.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Washington Examiner first reported on Morrison & Foerster’s decision to place Fairfax on leave. It was the National Law Journal.