Politics & Government

State Rep. Jim Stewart accused of harassing staffer in 2015. LRC won’t release records.

The Legislative Research Commission refuses to release documents related to a sexual harassment complaint filed in 2015 against state Rep. Jim Stewart III.

Stewart, R-Flat Lick, was accused of harassing a legislative staffer in a complaint lodged with the LRC in early 2015, according to an internal House Republican memo obtained by the Herald-Leader.

His name was first publicly associated with a sexual harassment complaint last week, when a lawsuit filed in Franklin County Circuit Court by fired House chief clerk Brad Metcalf said Stewart was the subject of a complaint by an LRC staffer.

Last week, Stewart denied knowing anything about a complaint filed against him.

“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,” he said at the time.

He did not respond to an email sent Friday that detailed the accusations made against him in the memo obtained by the newspaper.

The Legislative Research Commission declined to provide the Herald-Leader with records associated with any complaint against Stewart. In a letter dated March 14, the LRC denied the newspaper’s request under the Open Records Act, claiming the records are exempt from disclosure because they are preliminary in nature, would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” and might harm an ongoing administrative adjudication. The LRC also cited attorney-client privilege for the documents.

The memo obtained by the Herald-Leader, which is dated Feb. 10, 2015, was written by Metcalf, who was then the House Republican chief of staff, and sent to then-House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover.

In it, Metcalf writes that he was informed by LRC Human Resources Director Roy Collins that a legislative employee had alleged Stewart “made unwanted verbal advances toward her, using language and tonality that she did not approve of” over an extended period of time.

The staffer “had attempted to avoid interaction with him whenever possible” but “he would wait for her in other legislative suites, and engage in allegedly inappropriate conversations with her,” Metcalf wrote.

“Recently, the intensity of the inappropriate remarks has carried over into various public settings, and has led to a great deal of embarrassment” on the part of the woman, he wrote. Stewart had obtained the woman’s cell phone number and “began making calls to her throughout the day and after work hours,” which prompted the woman to file a complaint with Collins, according to the memo.

Collins and LRC General Counsel Laura Hendrix met privately with Stewart on Feb. 9, the memo said, and Stewart agreed to “cease all communication with the staffer.”

Stewart is the seventh Kentucky lawmaker who has been accused of sexual misconduct in accusations that surfaced in the last year, amidst a nationwide movement of women speaking out against sexual harassment. In July, State Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, was accused of groping a then 30-year old man. Months later, it was revealed that four Republican House members, — former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown; Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green; Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland; and Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge — had secretly settled a sexual harassment complaint made by a legislative staffer. In December, allegations surfaced that former state Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Mt. Washington, had once been accused of molesting a 17-year-old girl.

All of the men denied the allegations against them. None of the lawmakers have resigned, although Hoover stepped down from his role as Speaker in January and Johnson killed himself. DeCesare and Linder are not seeking re-election.

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