House Speaker Pro Tem Osborne asks Legislative Ethics Commission to investigate sexual harassment settlement

12/02/2017 10:13 AM

House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne has asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to investigate the circumstances of a confidential sexual harassment settlement between four members of the House of Representatives, the chief of staff for House Republican leadership and a former staffer.

Osborne, R-Prospect, released a preliminary report by the law firm Middleton Reutlinger, which interviewed nearly 40 people as part of its inquiry, on Friday.

The firm said that the accuser and a current staff member declined its interview requests, and while the five involved in the settlement – former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, GOP Reps. Jim DeCesare, Brian Linder and Michael Meredith and Chief of Staff Ginger Wills – spoke to investigators, they “refused to discuss the demand (letter), the allegations, or the terms of the Settlement citing the confidentiality clause of the settlement even though the Settlement and certain allegations related thereto had already been disclosed to third parties.”

Middleton Reutlinger also said it could not obtain a copy of the accuser’s demand letter.

Those involved in the settlement provided redacted bank records that show Hoover, R-Jamestownm took out a loan at First National Bank in Russell Springs at 6 percent interest to pay his share of the settlement on Nov. 6 and that Meredith, R-Oakland, and DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, cut checks days before that as part of the agreement.

Middleton Reutlinger wrote in its letter to Osborne that it is “confident” that the settlement was not paid through “improper political contributions” or public dollars, the latter of which the Legislative Research Commission previously confirmed.

After interviewing those who reportedly had seen the letter, the firm said it found no evidence “of any allegation of an inappropriate physical, sexual relationship involving any” of the accused. Hoover admitted in a news conference announcing his decision to step down as speaker that he exchanged inappropriate but consensual text messages with the former staffer.

Middleton Reutlinger said it found no “violations of any Kentucky ethics rules or Kentucky statutes” in its preliminary investigation, but the law firm suggested disallowing confidential harassment settlements involving lawmakers in the future.

“Having said that, we find it untenable that legislators elected by the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky can settle claims involving alleged workplace activity and/or activity with Office staff without disclosing it to the Ethics Commission and/or the LRC,” the firm wrote. “As set forth below, we recommend that this loophole be closed and such secretive resolutions be prohibited in the future.”

Osborne, R-Prospect, said in a statement that because of two uncooperative witnesses and the lack of a document “that is crucial to this investigation,” he’s asking the Legislative Ethics Commission to step in. The commission has subpoena power that Middleton Reutlinger lacked in its inquiry.

“We are asking the Ethics Commission to take it from here and subpoena anyone and any document they need to complete the work begun by Middleton Reutlinger,” said Osborne, who asked the commission specifically in his complaint to find out whether settlement funds were paid by political donors and named Hoover, DeCesare, Linder and Meredith in the filing.

“There is still information we don’t have, and we believe the Ethics Commission can and should get it to give the people of Kentucky a full and complete picture of what happened. The formal process for sending this to the Ethics Commission is the filing of a complaint, which I have personally signed today. It is attached to this statement. To be clear, I am not personally alleging any violations of Kentucky law or ethics rules, but am simply formalizing the hand off of this matter in the manner prescribed to me by the Director of the Legislative Ethics Commission.”

Osborne also said he has assembled a task force to develop recommendations to create “a formal system within the LRC and General Assembly to address all workplace complaints.”

He tasked Reps. Ken Fleming, R-Louisville, and Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, with leading that process and asked for recommendations by Feb. 15 so changes can be made during next year’s 60-day budget session.

“We cannot wait to fix problems that have come to light as a result of this matter,” Osborne said. “I am sending a letter to leadership in both parties in both chambers requesting their thoughts on and participation in a task force of this nature.”

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said House Democrats support the concept of the task force and strengthening “zero-tolerance policies regarding workplace harassment” and Osborne’s decision to ask the Legislative Ethics Commission to investigate.

“We have said all along that this investigation needs to be independent and objective to get to the truth of these allegations and should be conducted by an organization like the Legislative Ethics Commission, a process that I want to note Rep. Jim Wayne first initiated,” Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said in a statement. “I am pleased to see the House Republican leaders now agree with that approach as well.”


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.