Politics & Government

Former Kentucky House clerk says he was fired for reporting Hoover harassment scandal

Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, speaks on the House floor during the General Assembly at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Wednesday, January 17, 2018.
Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, speaks on the House floor during the General Assembly at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Wednesday, January 17, 2018.

The former chief clerk of the House of Representatives has filed a whistleblower lawsuit, alleging that he was fired for reporting harassing text messages from a member of the House of Representatives to a legislative staffer and a threatening message from U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville.

Brad Metcalf, who was fired January 1, filed the lawsuit Thursday against the Legislative Research Commission in Franklin Circuit Court.

Metcalf alleges he was approached by a co-worker in 2016, who alleged she was receiving inappropriate text messages from state Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green. Metcalf said he contacted former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, about the messages and Hoover told him it would be taken care of.

DeCesare and Hoover were among the four Republican House members who secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a legislative staffer last fall. Hoover has admitted sending “inappropriate” text messages to the staffer but maintains their relationship was consensual. Hoover was eventually forced to resign from his position as House speaker amid the scandal.

Metcalf’s lawsuit also contains names not seen before in documents related the scandal. In particular, he mentions a previous sexual harassment complaint filed against Rep. Jim Stewart, R-Flat Lick. The lawsuit, though, provides no further information about that complaint.

Stewart said he was surprised to see his name mentioned and knows of no complaint that has been filed about him to House leaders.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never hired a lawyer, never paid anybody, never been in front of the legislative ethics (commission), I don’t even know what he’s talking about,” Stewart said.

Leslie Vose, an attorney for Hoover and DeCesare, was not immediately available for comment.

Counting Stewart, seven lawmaker have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since July, amidst a nationwide movement of women speaking out against sexual harassment. Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, and Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, were also named in the settlement by the legislative staffer. Former Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Mt. Washington, was accused of molesting a teenager and state Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, was accused of groping a then 30-year-old man and asking him for oral sex.

All denied the allegations against them.

Metcalf also alleges he received a message from U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, that said Metcalf would be fired. He received the message shortly after meeting with a legislative staffer who said she would be suing Hoover.

Comer was not immediately available for comment.

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, declined to cite a reason for the firing to the Herald Leader, saying he wouldn’t comment on personnel matters. He said he was confident that the full facts would come out in the case.

Metcalf’s lawsuit corroborates some of the claims made by House Republican communications director Daisy Olivo, who filed her own whistleblower lawsuit against the LRC in December.

He said Olivo approached him and said former Chief of Staff Ginger Wills was moving toward firing the legislative staffer who had allegedly received inappropriate messages from DeCesare and was having an inappropriate relationship with Hoover. Metcalf also said the legislative staffer showed him a large volume of text messages, “many of an explicit nature,” between her and Hoover.

In the lawsuit, Metcalf says he was informed on October 17 that a legislative staffer had served a large demand letter against Hoover, several members of the General Assembly and a legislative staffer.

Five days later, he says he was told by House Republican General Counsel Laura Hendrix to report to her office during working hours, when he was then questioned by Vose, Hoover’s private attorney, about the legislative staffer’s work habits and her interactions with House members.

He said he subsequently told everything he knows about the scandal to LRC General Counsel Greg Woosley and Director of Human Resources Tim Holbrook, attorneys hired by the House Republican Caucus to investigate the claims, and legislative ethics investigators.

Metcalf was hired in 2004 as a policy analyst for House Republicans, before being named chief of staff in 2016. He was named chief clerk after Republicans took over the House in 2017.

Metcalf is seeking lost wages and benefits, as well as damages.

Shortly after Metcalf filed his lawsuit, the House of Representatives voted Thursday on House Bill 9, which creates new rules for how sexual harassment complaints are reported among LRC staff. The bill passed easily, with Hoover, DeCesare, Stewart and Meredith voting in favor of the bill. Linder did not vote.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics