FRANKFORT — A prosecutor for the Legislative Ethics Commission has a copy of a secret settlement that four Republican House members made with a legislative employee who accused them of sexual harassment.
Garry Adams, an attorney representing the former legislative employee, said the prosecutor had already obtained the settlement when Adams met with the prosecutor to hand over subpoenaed text messages between his client and the House members.
“They showed us that document and asked us to verify,” Adams said.
Kara Daniel, a lawyer for the commission, said the settlement will not be made public until the commission makes a ruling on an ethics complaint against the lawmakers that it is investigating.
Attorneys representing Jeff Hoover, the former speaker of the House, and the three other lawmakers decided Tuesday to waive a preliminary hearing on whether there was probable cause for the complaint against them.
“That does not mean they said they were guilty,” said George Troutman, chairman of the commission. “It doesn’t mean they imply that they’re guilty.”
It does mean that the case against Hoover, R-Jamestown; Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green; Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland; and Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, will proceed to an adjudicatory hearing.
“The complaint, barring some legal technicality, will not be dismissed,” Troutman said. “The complaint will be acted upon, either you take the handcuffs off, you’re free to go home, or you’re guilty as charged and the appropriate punishment would be determined.”
The hearing will be public, and Troutman said he will set a date in the next two weeks.
The ethics commission is acting on a complaint filed by Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville. The House Republican leadership team also filed a complaint, but Troutman said he chose to investigate Wayne’s complaint.
“I had to pick one, and that’s the one I picked,” Troutman said.
Wayne filed his complaint Nov. 15, just 10 days after Hoover announced that he would resign from his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives and acknowledged that he and three other lawmakers had secretly settled a sexual harassment complaint made by an employee.
The complaint alleges that the four lawmakers violated the ethics code by paying for the settlement with an unknown source of money and by engaging in inappropriate activity with a legislative staffer.
Hoover has admitted to participating in the settlement and to sending inappropriate text messages, but he said the messages were consensual and didn’t constitute sexual harassment. He and the other lawmakers have refused to say how much they paid to settle the harassment claim or how they raised the money.
“Representative Hoover’s admitted inappropriate and sexually explicit text messages with a young female subordinate are a clear violation of KRS 6.731(3),” Wayne’s complaint says. “These actions had no other purpose than to benefit him, and they represent an effort by Representative Hoover to obtain privileges, advantages, or treatment of himself in direct contravention of the public at large.”
Troutman said that he has already signed several subpoenas related to the complaint and that he hopes the complaint will be addressed in a timely process.
“I do not plan on waiting until after the (legislative) session,” he said.
The commission can fine members up to $2,000 for each violation and issue a public or confidential reprimand. The commission also can recommend that the full House expel a member.
Wayne said Tuesday that he is pleased the ethics commission will hold public hearings to investigate the four lawmakers.
“I look forward to an open and honest fact-finding procedure that reveals the truth behind the alleged misconduct and the source of the secret financial settlement,” he said.
All four lawmakers have ignored a call by Gov. Matt Bevin, a fellow Republican, to resign from the legislature.
Troutman said the commission has never asked the House or the Senate to expel a member.
He said it’s common for people to waive their preliminary hearing, in part because the process is costly.
Hoover, DeCesare and Meredith were represented by Leslie Vose, a Lexington attorney. Linder was represented by Kerry Harvey, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky.