CHICAGO – William Kennedy Smith (search) said Monday he has resigned from the humanitarian group he founded while he fights sexual assault allegations leveled by a former employee.
"I am simply doing everything I can to protect the organization I love," Smith said in his first public appearance since Audra Soulias filed a lawsuit last week alleging he sexually assaulted her five years ago.
Smith, the nephew of Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), denied he assaulted Soulias. He said friends worried that he would appear guilty by resigning from the Center for International Rehabilitation, which helps victims of land mines.
"The damage has been done, but the truth will be sorted out," said Smith, a 43-year-old medical doctor who was cleared of rape charges in a separate case in Florida in 1991. He did not take questions.
Soulias, 28, Smith's former personal assistant, is seeking at least $50,000 in damages, the minimum that such a court action must demand under Illinois law.
She claims that Smith bought her drinks while she was celebrating her birthday in January 1999 and that he later took her to his house, dragged her upstairs and sexually assaulted her.
Soulias continued to work for Smith until June 1999 and during that time had consensual sex with him on a number of occasions, according to her attorney, Kevin E. O'Reilly.
Smith said he had a five-month relationship with Soulias in 1999.
"It was in no way forced or coerced," he said. "I cannot dignify her allegations by repeating them, even to deny them, so all I can say is that they are false."
Smith's attorney, Dan Webb, said that one day before the lawsuit was filed, an attorney for Soulias wrote a letter to another attorney representing Smith and demanded $3.3 million. Webb said the letter warned a lawsuit would be filed within hours if the money was not paid.
"Dr. Smith was determined not to give in to that kind of extortion, and that is why the lawsuit is on file," Webb said.
O'Reilly declined comment when asked why he demanded $3.3 million a day before the lawsuit was filed, but said the lawsuit is "meritorious."
While the lawsuit goes into detail about the alleged assault in 1999, the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit seeking damages for a sexual assault has expired.
Instead, the lawsuit seeks damages for a Jan. 9 voicemail that Smith left for Soulias. She says the call caused her "severe emotional distress, physical distress and mental anguish" and stemmed from an investigation into sexual harassment at the center.
Two other women filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (search) in the fall of 2003 claiming "repeated sexual harassment" and "unwanted sexual advances" by Smith, according to the lawsuit.
Webb acknowledged that Smith had left the voicemail but said there was nothing harassing about it. He also said the cases filed by the other women had been "settled amicably."