House GOP hires law firm to handle investigation into sexual harassment allegations, settlement

11/07/2017 08:36 PM

FRANKFORT – House Republicans, who caucused for four hours behind closed doors Tuesday, are moving forward with their investigation into allegations of sexual harassment that led to a settlement with a legislative staffer and forced Rep. Jeff Hoover to resign as House speaker on Sunday.

House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, a Prospect Republican who has assumed operational duties of the speaker’s office, said in news release Tuesday that leadership has retained the law firm Middleton Reutlinger for the independent investigation.

“This firm has launched the first phase of the investigation we announced Saturday,” Osborne said in a statement. “They will ensure we are in full compliance with all laws and regulations as we deal with staff and legislators to uncover the facts. We intend to operate the Speaker’s office by the book. Lest there be any doubt, we are not personally involved in the investigation and have hired one of the best law firms in Kentucky to conduct the initial phase of this independent inquiry.”

Osborne said after the caucus meeting that Middleton Reutlinger has sent an engagement letter to the Legislative Research Commission on Tuesday and that he had not seen the document when asked how much the firm would be paid under the agreement.

Osborne also indicated in his statement that “new information regarding this unfolding situation” had been learned on Tuesday and that House Republican leadership had been “kept in the dark about exactly what happened.”

Hoover acknowledged on Sunday that he had engaged in inappropriate banter via text message with the woman, but he said those communications were consensual and that he did not engage in sexual harassment. He said others accused by the staffer of sexual harassment – Reps. Jim DeCesare, Brian Linder and Michael Meredith, who have been removed as committee chairmen pending the investigation’s outcome – also denied any wrongdoing.

“We are committed to pursuing a fully independent investigation so that all facts may be known,” Osborne said in the prepared statement. “We remain of the belief that decisions regarding legislators and staff involved should be made when the facts are fully known.

“Based on what we know at this moment, we are firmer than ever in our belief that a fully independent investigation must be allowed to continue. Clearly, things have happened in the background of the Kentucky House of Representatives that must ultimately be disclosed to the public.”

Osborne was not forthcoming on exactly what new information had emerged on Tuesday.

“We’re learning new things every day,” he told reporters after the caucus meeting. “… I’m not going to talk about personnel matters.”

Top House Democrats, however, say that all legislative leaders should be involved in the inquiry, including in selecting a law firm to handle it.

In a letter to Osborne, House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, House Minority Caucus Chair Dennis Keene and House Minority Whip Wilson Stone wrote that the House GOP’s selection of legal counsel to conduct “an investigation of harassment claims against its own caucus members cannot, by definition, be independent.”

“We would caution you not to pursue this course,” House Democratic leaders wrote in the letter dated Tuesday. “Instead, the entire Legislative Research Commission should be consulted for the purpose of determining how best to obtain the independent and impartial investigation we all know is necessary. Nothing less than public trust in the General Assembly as an institution is at stake.”

They asked Osborne to call a meeting of the LRC “to determine the most appropriate means of achieving the end we all know is necessary” and respond by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Osborne declined to comment on the letter.

Despite the ongoing controversy, Osborne told reporters that House Republicans are committed to shepherding a pension reform proposal through the legislature. Gov. Matt Bevin has said he plans to call the General Assembly back to Frankfort in a special session later this year.

“We had a very brief meeting with the Senate this morning and have staff working on that,” he said. “This has obviously kind of diverted a little bit of our attention, and we are not able to focus our full efforts on that right this second, but we do have staff and several members that are continuing to work on it every day.”

“We’re still going to the business of Kentucky,” he added.

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