FRANKFORT — A deposition that contains allegations of sexual misconduct by former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, remained sealed Tuesday as two Franklin Circuit Judges decide whether his attorney has the right to cross examine the former legislative staffer who made the allegations.
Two former House Republican Staffers — former communications director Daisy Olivo and former Chief Clerk Brad Metcalf — have filed whistleblower lawsuits alleging they were retaliated against for asking questions about the alleged harassment of another former staffer.
Olivo and Metcalf filed their lawsuits separately. Olivo’s case went to Franklin Circuit Court Judge Philip Shepherd while Metcalf’s case went to Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate. The two judges came together Tuesday to hear arguments on whether Hoover, R-Jamestown; Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland; and former Rep. Jim Decesare, R-Bowling Green, have a right to intervene in the cases as defendants.
Both judges and the attorneys said the cases were unusual. Not only are the whistleblower claims focused on a co-equal branch of government, but they involved partisan staff who are paid by the Legislative Research Commission but reported to House Leadership.
“She’s in a sensitive job,” Shepherd said of Olivo. “She’s in a job that requires a lot of trust and confidence.”
Leslie Vose, the attorney for the three lawmakers, filed a motion to intervene in the case after an October 2 deposition by a former legislative staffer, who the court calls Jane Doe, contained several allegations of sexual assault, according to Olivo’s attorney, Shane Sidebottom. Jane Doe had previously settled her allegations with the lawmakers for $110,000.
Hans Poppe, the other attorney representing Olivo and Metcalf, said allowing the lawmakers to become defendants in the case would not only be unprecedented (whistleblower claims are made against institutions, not people) but it would derail the case and cause it to become a trial over whether Jane Doe’s accusations are accurate.
Gail Langendorf, the attorney representing Doe, agreed.
“All my client wants to do is move on with her life,” Langendorf said.
She has filed a motion asking the judges to protect Jane Doe from cross examination by Vose.
Hoover has already settled the allegations twice, once in the original settlement deal and once with the Legislative Ethics Commission.
Vose argued that because the deposition contains allegations that affect the reputations of the three lawmakers, they should have a chance to defend themselves.
“There is no due process here,” Vose said. “If plaintiffs had limited their questions to what they needed to prove in (a) whistleblower (case) then I wouldn’t be here, but they didn’t. And they want it published.”
Poppe said his argument boiled down to whether the two former staffers had a right to intervene in the alleged harassment and, once they did, if they were retaliated against, not the accuracy of Doe’s claims. He said allowing Hoover’s lawyer to intervene in the case would have a chilling effect that would prevent future victims of harassment and inappropriate contact from coming forward.
“They want an opportunity to beat Jane Doe up, plain and simple,” Poppe said.
Shepherd had previously ruled that Vose had the right to cross examine Doe, but the deposition was canceled until the court ruled on her motion to intervene in the case. He initially ruled from the bench that he would grant Vose’s motion, but walked it back after several more minutes of arguments.
“I don’t want to do anything that is going to inhibit people from reporting misconduct, but on the other hand when misconduct is reported, you know Ms. Olivo’s claim is not so much about the misconduct as she claims she was retaliated against because she believed the allegation of misconduct,” Shepherd said.
Meanwhile, Wingate seemed to indicate he thought the deposition should remain sealed.
Sidebottom, who frequently defends Frankfort whistleblowers, cautioned that a ruling that allows the lawmakers to become defendants runs the risk of creating a dangerous precedent because it could allow the people accused of harassment to step in to whistleblower lawsuits and intervene.
“This is unheard of,” Sidebottom said. “This is a substantial change to the law and it has a chilling effect.”