Investigations Politics

Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne said in a statement issued Thursday that he “takes all allegations of a hostile work environment seriously” after allegations of sexual assault were publicized about state Rep. Jeff Hoover.

Osborne said he has asked the Legislative Ethics Commission if it was aware of details of the sexual assault and harassment allegations when it looked last year into claims made by a former staffer.

In sworn testimony the former staffer gave in a deposition, she said she was sexually assaulted by Hoover, the former Republican House Speaker, more than 50 times while she worked for him between 2015 and 2017. She said the incidents included nonconsensual groping at the state Capitol and touching her between her legs under the table at gatherings.

She also alleged that GOP Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland screamed vulgar comments at her during a conference, “asking me why I wouldn’t f–k him, begging me to have sex with him.”

The allegations were made in a sealed deposition obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Kentucky Public Radio. In his Thursday statement, Osborne said House Majority leadership had referred the matter to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which reviewed the case last year.

“We will wait to hear from the Ethics Commission, but Kentuckians can be certain that we will remain vigilant in our efforts to provide a safe, productive workplace for all of our employees,” Osborne said.

John Schaaf, executive director of the Legislative Ethics Commission, said he had responded to Osborne’s request and referred reporters back to the speaker’s office.

Hoover, Meredith and former Republican representatives Jim DeCesare and Brian Linder faced an ethics inquiry last year after then-Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat, filed a complaint against them. The complaint came after Courier Journal reported that Hoover signed a secret sexual harassment settlement with the former staffer. Later, Meredith, DeCesare and Linder were also revealed as parties to the $110,000 settlement.

The Legislative Ethics Commission negotiated privately with Hoover to settle the complaint. He was fined $1,000 and publicly reprimanded. The commission voted to dismiss the complaint against the three other lawmakers.

Hoover and Meredith are still in office. Meredith couldn’t be reached for comment; Hoover’s lawyer said he wasn’t going to address the allegations publicly and noted that they haven’t been able to cross examine the former staffer.

Hoover admitted that he exchanged inappropriate, sexually charged text messages with the woman, but he said his conduct was consensual and didn’t extend beyond texts.

In the deposition, the former staffer said that prior to the ethics hearing, she had two meetings with investigators from the ethics commission.

In that October 2018 testimony, offered in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by her former supervisor, the former staffer said she was subpoenaed to speak to the investigators, but wasn’t placed under oath.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers also responded to the allegations against Hoover and the other lawmakers, saying he didn’t have any “independent knowledge” about what he called inflammatory statements in the deposition.

“You have not heard from Jeff Hoover as to what his response was,” Stivers said.

On Wednesday, former Republican Rep. Brad Montell resigned from his position as the director of government relations for the Kentucky Department of Education. In the deposition, the former staffer alleged that Montell told her he would donate to a political candidate she worked for only if she “sat in his lap and signed the checks for him.”

Montell was not a party to the sexual harassment settlement or investigated by the ethics commission.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.
R.G. Dunlop is an investigative reporter whose work has exposed government corruption and resulted in numerous reforms.