Vermont Judge Issues No-Stalking Order Against GOP Operative Stuart Stevens | Off Message

Vermont Judge Issues No-Stalking Order Against GOP Operative Stuart Stevens


Mitt Romney (left) and Stuart Stevens talking aboard the Romney campaign plane in October 2012 - AP PHOTO/CHARLES DHARAPAK
  • Ap Photo/charles Dharapak
  • Mitt Romney (left) and Stuart Stevens talking aboard the Romney campaign plane in October 2012
Updated at 6:29 p.m.

A Vermont judge has found that Stuart Stevens, a national political consultant and the architect of Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) 2012 presidential campaign, inflicted “emotional distress” on a Stowe woman through a yearlong barrage of unwanted communications.

Superior Court Judge Megan Shafritz issued a no-stalking order against Stevens last Friday, barring him from contacting or approaching the woman, Paige Hinkson, until July 2019. Stevens had been subject to a temporary no-stalking order since last June, when Hinkson filed her initial complaint; it was extended five times.

In her ruling, Shafritz wrote that Stevens had called or texted Hinkson or her husband, Craig DeLuca, 151 times between April 2017 and March 2018 — often late at night and always from a blocked phone number. The judge also found that Stevens stared Hinkson down at a Stowe café, sent DeLuca a threatening package and engaged in other behavior that led Hinkson to appear “frightened and distraught” in court.

“I am petrified of Stuart Stevens and I desperately need the protection of this court,” Hinkson said during a hearing last June, according to court transcripts. In an interview Wednesday with Seven Days, she called the situation “excruciating” and said she’d been “living in terror because of Stuart Stevens.”

He has denied the allegations, arguing in court that he had never met Hinkson and wished her no harm. His lawyer, Craig Nolan, said in a written statement Wednesday that Shafritz's ruling included "numerous factual and legal errors." He said that Stevens would appeal the case to the Vermont Supreme Court.

A part-time Vermonter who owns a house on the Morrisville-Stowe line, Stevens has made a name for himself as a writer, advertising guru and political consultant. He has worked on five Republican presidential campaigns, crafting television ads for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and serving as Romney's senior strategist in 2012. In recent years, he has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump.

Stevens also served as a "voluntary consultant" to Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's 2018 reelection campaign, according to Scott's campaign manager, Brittney Wilson. Stevens' Annapolis, Md.-based firm, Strategic Partners & Media, produced ads for the campaign, Wilson said.
The disagreement between Stevens and Hinkson is part of a broader conflict involving their respective romantic partners.

Stevens’ girlfriend of a dozen years, Lisa Senecal, has alleged that DeLuca sexually assaulted her in February 2017 as she was seeking employment at Inntopia, a Stowe-based hospitality software company of which DeLuca served as president. Senecal reached a settlement with Inntopia in May 2017 for an undisclosed sum.

A second Stowe resident, Alison Miley, sued Inntopia and DeLuca in May 2018, alleging that in October 2016, he locked her in his office and propositioned her for sex as she was seeking employment. Last month, Inntopia and DeLuca reached a settlement with Miley for $60,000, plus lawyer’s fees. DeLuca, who left the company in the summer of 2017, has disputed both women’s accounts.

In her no-stalking order, Shafritz suggested that Stevens’ behavior toward Hinkson may have been motivated by a desire to exact retribution against DeLuca. Citing a June 2018 email Stevens sent a mutual friend, the judge described him as having a “fixation on discrediting [Hinkson’s] husband.”

Stevens and his supporters say just the opposite: that it was Hinkson who was seeking retribution against Stevens and Senecal for making allegations against DeLuca.

In a statement Wednesday to Seven Days, Senecal wrote that Hinkson’s request for a no-stalking order against Stevens “was a blatant attempt to punish me for speaking out publicly and intimidate me and the supporters of Craig DeLuca’s survivors.”

At a hearing last November, Hinkson said that after receiving a spate of unwanted phone calls from blocked numbers, she installed software on her phone to determine their origin. She found that Stevens was behind many of them.

Subpoenaed phone records produced for the civil case confirmed that Hinkson and DeLuca received repeated phone calls from at least four separate numbers associated with Stevens. Each time, the caller dialed "*67," which masks the origin of a call, and did not leave a message.

Stevens testified in court that when he dialed Hinkson's cell phone number, he had been attempting to reach DeLuca at the business Hinkson and DeLuca co-own. Stevens said he had declined to leave messages because he "did not know what to say." Shafritz wrote that the court "does not find this explanation to be credible," noting in part that the calls were placed after business hours and that Stevens had previously reached DeLuca at another number.

Hinkson also testified that she had opened a package Stevens sent DeLuca at the couple's home in June 2017 that included several books about sexual assault — among them, I Never Called It Rape and Rape Is Rape. The package included a note reading, "Hi Craig, Enjoy your gift! From stuart p. stevens." At the hearing, Stevens said that his therapist had recommended the books and that he was just passing them along to be helpful.

The judge wrote that she found that explanation to be "implausible." She questioned why Stevens would seek to "help the man he believed sexually assaulted his long-time partner." Shafritz wrote that Stevens "would have understood the implicit threat of potential retribution or retaliation that would have been perceived by a woman who received such books at her home." He would realize that such an act "would be disturbing and cause fear and emotional distress to a reasonable person in Hinkson's position," Shafritz added.

Hinkson told the court that on one occasion, Stevens followed her in his car and, on another, sat at a table near her at Stowe's PK Coffee and proceeded to stare at her for as long as 20 minutes. "It felt like forever," she said. Shafritz wrote that Hinkson had proven the latter allegation but not the former. Stevens denied both.

In November 2017 — before Senecal's allegations against DeLuca were publicized — the Stowe Reporter published an op-ed by Stevens about sexual assault and the #MeToo movement. He wrote at the time that he had "seen it in action recently where a man who prominently held himself out as a feminist and community leader has been quietly exposed as a serial assaulter of women." Stevens argued that such men should be shunned by their spouses and their communities. According to Hinkson, he then emailed the op-ed to her without comment.

In a court filing last November, Stevens' attorney alleged that Hinkson sought the no-stalking order "to retaliate against Stevens for his support of other women seeking to protect themselves from sexual predatory conduct by Hinkson's husband." Nolan argued that Hinkson had been seeking to "smear [Stevens] in public."

In his statement Wednesday, Nolan wrote that Stevens "had never spoken with, met, called or even seen Paige Hinkson" prior to the court case. He argued that the use in court of the Stowe Reporter op-ed and other writing by Stevens "would send a chilling message to all writers."

"This is about Craig Deluca, as will be demonstrated on appeal," Nolan wrote. "My client finds Craig Deluca’s treatment of women reprehensible.”

DeLuca did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

In her statement to Seven Days, Senecal hailed Stevens for standing up to the man she accuses of assaulting her.

“Any actions by Stuart, from phone calls and conversations with Craig Deluca to sending him books by feminist authors about how to make women safer were directed exclusively at Craig Deluca with the goals of educating a predator and protecting my family and the community,” she wrote. “We know supporters of sexual harassment and assault victims take a risk in standing up in support of them. It is still the right thing to do.”

Hinkson, on the other hand, took umbrage at the notion that Stevens had been seeking to protect women.

“I actually find that offensive,” she told Seven Days. “And I don’t know how he can claim to be a defender of women when he has been relentlessly harassing one.”

Hinkson, who remains married to DeLuca, said that the ordeal had damaged her family, her business and her standing in the community. She said she had become “virtually a shut-in” at her Stowe home.

Though Hinkson expected the court to act quickly when she filed for a no-stalking order last summer, she said that Stevens and his lawyers had dragged out the process for seven months. She said she had doled out $80,000 in legal expenses, “and the bills keep coming.”

“The whole situation has been emotionally and financially draining for me,” Hinkson said. “It’s been excruciating, scary and has totally affected every aspect of my life.”