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Hearing Set For Kentucky Lawmakers Accused Of Harassment

Josh James

Four Republican lawmakers in Kentucky who signed a secret sexual harassment settlement last year are scheduled to participate in a hearing next month before a state ethics commission that could recommend they be removed from office.

The Legislative Ethics Commission hearing, scheduled for April 3, is the result of an ethics complaint filed by a Democratic lawmaker against former House Speaker Jeff Hoover and GOP Reps. Jim DeCesare, Michael Meredith and Brian Linder.

All four men signed a secret sexual harassment settlement last October involving a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus. Hoover has denied sexual harassment, but said he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages. He resigned as speaker in January but remains in office. The other three lawmakers were removed as committee chairman but also remain in office.

The commission can fine the lawmakers, as it chose to do in 2014 after holding a similar hearing for accusations against former Democratic Rep. John Arnold. It could also recommend expelling the lawmakers from office. But that step would require a full vote from the House of Representatives.

Since the #metoo movement began in earnest last year, two state lawmakers have been expelled from office following accusations of sexual misconduct. The latest was last week, when the Colorado House of Representatives voted to expel Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock. Arizona Republican state Rep. Don Shooter was expelled Feb. 1.

A group of eight Kentucky Republican lawmakers filed formal charges against Hoover earlier this year, asking a committee of lawmakers to recommend expelling him. But that committee later disbanded when the House voted to remove its authority, preferring to let the Legislative Ethics Commission investigate the charges.

Leslie Vose, an attorney representing Hoover, Meredith and Linder, said her clients will participate in the hearing. Kerry Harvey, attorney for Brian Linder, did not return a call seeking comment.

It's unclear if the woman who brought the allegations will participate. Her attorney, Garry Adams, said the hearing date was set without consulting him and he will be out of town that week.

Michael Malone, a retired prosecutor from Fayette County, will present the case. The hearing will be handled much like a court hearing, with witnesses called to testify and attorneys for the lawmakers allowed to cross-examine them. Lawmakers will also get a chance to call witnesses and present evidence.

Ethics Commission Director John Schaff said Malone had the authority to issue subpoenas, but he did not know if he did so. Vose declined to comment on if her clients had been issued a subpoena.

The complaint filed by Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne asks the ethics commission to find out how much the settlement was and who paid for it. He also asked the commission to determine if the lawmakers broke other ethics laws, including using their positions of authority to enrich themselves or create advantages or treatment that is "in direct contravention to the public interest."

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