Politics & Government

State House sexual harassment investigation could cost Kentucky taxpayers $50,000

Members of the Kentucky House and Senate met in a joint session Jan. 26, 2016, in the House chambers as Gov. Matt Bevin delivered his budget at the Kentucky State Capitol.
Members of the Kentucky House and Senate met in a joint session Jan. 26, 2016, in the House chambers as Gov. Matt Bevin delivered his budget at the Kentucky State Capitol. AP

The Legislative Research Commission’s contract with a Louisville law firm to investigate sexual harassment in the state House of Representatives will cost Kentucky taxpayers up to $50,000.

The contract, obtained by the Herald-Leader through a request under the Open Records Act, says the law firm of Middleton Reutlinger will be paid as much as $50,000 “to conduct a human resources investigation of, and provide legal advice to, the House Republican caucus.”

The contract went into effect Nov. 7 and runs through June 30, with the possibility of renewal.

House Republican leaders announced the contract after state Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, stepped down Nov. 5 as the House speaker, the chamber’s top position. Hoover acknowledged that he and others had secretly settled a sexual harassment claim brought by a legislative staffer.

Hoover and three other Republican House members have since ignored Gov. Matt Bevin’s call to resign their legislative seats. Hoover acknowledged that he sent inappropriate text messages to the woman but has denied that he and the other lawmakers ever sexually harassed her.

The accuser, who has since left her state job, has not been publicly identified by the Herald-Leader. The newspaper does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual harassment.

The other Republican lawmakers named in a settlement-demand letter from the accuser are Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge; Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland; and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green, according to House Republican Communications Director Daisy Olivo, who has seen the letter.

The three have been removed from their positions as committee chairmen by the House GOP leadership team.

The letter also accused House Republican Chief of Staff Ginger Wills of creating a hostile work environment, according to Olivo.

Middleton Reutlinger had been expected to issue a preliminary report last week but asked for an extension, saying some House Republican staffers have refused to cooperate with the law firm.

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, said he was “disappointed in the procedural delays” that the investigators have experienced and he expects a report from the firm on Dec. 1.

Osborne also has said that leaders are considering turning over the investigation to an agency with the ability to “compel information from key people and witnesses.”

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, has asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to investigate the matter, including who paid any money associated with the secret settlement agreement.

Jack Brammer: 502-227-1198, @BGPolitics

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