Politics & Government

She advised KY House GOP during Hoover scandal. Now she'll advise the investigators.

Former Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown
Former Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown File photo

The general counsel for the Kentucky House Republican Caucus, who allegedly sat in the room as former House Speaker Jeff Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers secretly settled a sexual harassment complaint, will soon serve as the attorney for the Legislative Ethics Commission.

Laura Hendrix, who was hired as general counsel for the House Republican Caucus in 2016, will start as attorney for the Legislative Ethics Commission Tuesday. Her new role begins less than a month after the ethics commission settled a complaint against Hoover and fined him $1,000.

John Schaaf, executive director of the ethics commission, said he has known Hendrix for 20 years and hired her for the experience she brings to the commission. Prior to working for the House Republican Caucus, Hendrix was general counsel for the Legislative Research Commission and worked with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

Hendrix' appointment comes as sexual harassment scandals have ricocheted through the Capitol. Since July, accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct have surfaced against seven lawmakers.

Hendrix was not accused of wrongdoing in her role as general counsel, though one former and one current House Republican Caucus staffer have filed whistleblower lawsuits claiming they were retaliated against by their employers for reporting Hoover's behavior.

Former House Chief of Staff Brad Metcalf alleged Hoover's private attorney used Hendrix' office to question staffers about the sexual harassment complaint. He also alleged Hendrix was present when the settlement was signed.

"Attorneys represent their clients, and sometimes they have to be in the room when it happens," Schaaf said.

Former Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover was required to admit that he violated the Legislative Ethics Code after he agreed to a settlement offered by the Legislative Ethics Commission Tuesday, April 20, 2018.

As general counsel for the LRC in 2015, Hendrix also allegedly attended a meeting between Rep. Jim Stewart III, R-Flat Lick, and LRC Human Resources Director Roy Collins after Stewart was accused of harassing a legislative staffer, according to a memo written by Metcalf. Metcalf said Stewart agreed to "cease all communication with the staffer" after the meeting.

The LRC has refused to release to the Herald-Leader any records of complaints against Stewart or any other lawmakers.

Schaaf said Hendrix's experience serving as an attorney in state government outweighed any issues that occurred among the people she represented.

"I don't see her representation of people as baggage," Schaaf said. "I don't see that she's done anything wrong. As far as I know, she's been an excellent attorney."

The Legislative Ethics Commission formed in 1993 in response to an FBI investigation that exposed 15 current or former lawmakers for selling their votes. According to a 2009 analysis of the commission's work by the Herald-Leader, the panel had dismissed 20 of 21 ethics complaints filed against legislators in the previous decade.

Hendrix did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

In a lengthy floor speech, state Rep. Jeff Hoover resigned Monday as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

State Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, announced he will step down from his leadership role in the Kentucky House of Representatives on Nov. 5, 2017.