Rep. Wayne says he hopes Legislative Ethics Commission finds answers in sexual harassment settlement

11/18/2017 05:34 PM

State Representative Jim Wayne has two primary questions he wants answered in the sexual harassment settlement that caused former House Speaker Jeff Hoover to step down from leadership, and he hopes the Legislative Ethics Commission can answer them: what happened and how was the undisclosed settlement paid?

Wayne filed a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission on Wednesday, and although House Republican leaders have launched their own independent investigation into the matter, the Louisville Democrat says the ethics commission has far greater authority in such inquiries, particularly in its ability to subpoena records and put witnesses under oath.

Those were major provisions of ethics reforms passed in the early 1990s in the wake of BOPTROT.

“We ensured that the ethics commission would have the tools necessary to do any investigation of legislators that was necessary, and that means with subpoena power they can gather all the documents that are necessary, they can interview people under oath, including the legislators and anybody who knows anything about the situation,” Wayne said during an interview Saturday, “so they can do a much more comprehensive investigation of the facts so that we all know what’s going on, what has transpired.”

On Friday, House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne announced that House GOP leaders may refer their inquiry to the ethics commission after a preliminary report is filed by the law firm they hired to investigate.

Hoover, R-Jamestown, acknowledged the inappropriate communications with a legislative staffer, but he said their correspondence via text message was consensual. Others who reportedly settled with the since-departed employee include GOP Reps. Jim DeCesare, Brian Linder and Michael Meredith, although only Linder has confirmed his part in the settlement.

Osborne, R-Prospect, said he had already spoken with the Legislative Ethics Commission about a possible investigation on Monday, but he wanted to see what the law firm House Republican leaders hired come up with before reaching a decision. He said other government agencies indicated “that they weren’t comfortable dispensing personnel and workplace advice to the Speaker’s office.”

“Because we were kept in the dark about these matters, we did not know exactly what we were dealing with and wanted to ensure we had the best legal advice possible,” Osborne said in a statement. “That was something we could not find within existing state government resources, so we sought it externally. We promised to do this by the book, and that’s exactly what we are doing.

“Next week, I expect Middleton Reutlinger will fulfill its forecast of providing a preliminary investigatory report. There is a strong likelihood we will turn this over to Legislative Ethics at that time, but I want to see the report and get their advice before making the final decision.”

Wayne hopes Osborne and other House Republican leaders will in fact join his complaint to the ethics commission.

“It must be overwhelming to be in power for the first time since the 1920s and then have something like this tsunami overwhelm you all at once,” he said. “It sounds like they’re being extremely cautious, and I regret that because I think it’s time for them to stand up and to be strong and to say, ‘We’re not going to tolerate this. We’re going to get all the facts,’ and the only was to do that is with an independent investigation that’s nonpartisan, done by a legally established entity that has subpoena power.”

The Legislative Research Commission announced last week that no tax dollars were used in the sexual harassment settlement, and House GOP leaders said they didn’t know the source of the settlement money.

He isn’t accusing anyone of wrongdoing, but Wayne said he wants to know who paid the settlement.

“We know that in 2013 the settlement with the Legislative Research Commission cost $400,000 for the victims there,” Wayne said, referencing a case in which former Democratic Rep. John Arnold was found guilty by the ethics commission of sexually harassing three legislative staffers, “and so if you have something comparable here in terms of a settlement, you have to look at the resources of the four legislators involved and ask whether or not they had the resources at that level of compensation to finance that.

“If not, where’d that money come from? Was it from some political backer? Was it someone who wanted to curry influence with legislative leaders? I don’t know, but the ethics commission should be able to find out answers to all those questions.”

Wayne said he believes it should be illegal for secret sexual harassment settlements, especially in the public sector.

He said such arrangements impact not only the individuals involved, but also they organizations they represent.

“I’m a Catholic, and I’ve seen what’s gone on historically in the Catholic church in regard to private settlements on the sexual abuse thing, and this was done for years until finally strong people stood up and said, ‘We’re going to make this public,’ and when they did that, it helped cleanse the church of this type of a problem,” Wayne said.

“And we’ll always have these types of problems, but when we deal with them more openly, then it’s healthier for the entire system when it’s a higher institution, whether it’s a church or a business or it’s government.”

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