Politics

The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission voted to dismiss ethics charges brought against three Republican state representatives, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the men broke ethics rules by secretly signing a sexual harassment settlement with a former staffer.

But the commission did not dismiss a complaint filed against former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who also signed the settlement.

Hoover stepped down from the speakership in January and the three other representatives were stripped of their leadership positions after Courier Journal first reported the settlement brought on by a staffer who worked for House Republican staff.

Hoover admitted to exchanging inappropriate text messages with the woman, but denied sexually harassing her.

During Monday’s proceedings, it was revealed that the total amount of the settlement was $110,000 split between the four men.

The hearing also revealed more about the allegations leveled against the other representatives in the settlement.

According to defense attorneys, Rep. Michael Meredith was accused of saying something “vulgar” to the staffer, while Reps. Jim DeCesare and Brian Linder allegedly exchanged inappropriate texts with her.

Kerry Harvey, a former U.S. attorney representing Rep. Linder, said lawmakers didn’t break ethics rules if they sexually harassed the staffer.

“There are no facts alleged in this so-called complaint, and by the way, sexual harassment is not against the legislative ethics code,” Harvey said. “You might say it should be, and I would agree with you.”

Hoover was the only of the representatives not present at the meeting. None of the three who attended would comment afterwards.

Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne filed the complaint in January.

Harvey and Leslie Vose, who represented the other lawmakers, argued that the complaint should be dismissed because it isn’t based on facts gathered by Wayne, but rather on news reports.

Wayne testified on Monday that he didn’t have any direct knowledge about any wrongdoing when he filed the complaint.

Vose asked that the complaints be dismissed against the three lawmakers besides Hoover.

“There’s different information as to representative Hoover. There are more specific allegations in the newspaper regarding Rep. Hoover,” Vose said.

The commission also voted to dismiss a charge that alleged the settlement had been paid for using public money or funds gathered by lobbyists.

Commission member Tony Goetz said he hoped the legislature would create an ethics rule dealing with sexual harassment in the statehouse.

“Let’s put together a really good bunch of amendments with some points in it and get this before the legislature as soon as possible. Because it’s something that has to be done,” Goetz said.

The proceedings will continue on Monday, April 10.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.