Jeff Hoover’s sexual harassment lesson for lawmakers

Published 10:36 am Thursday, April 19, 2018

Who paid and how much were the most important questions raised by a confidential sexual harassment settlement that divided Kentucky Republicans and gave the legislature a black eye.

Investigators for the Legislative Ethics Commission determined that former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, three other Republican lawmakers and Hoover’s former chief-of-staff paid $110,000 to a former staffer who had accused them of sexual harassment.

Investigators also determined that that the money did not come from sources seeking legislative favors. Nor was the staffer paid from public funds. Financial records indicated the $110,000 came from personal sources, including family and friends, and bank loans. The accuser received $66,000 and her lawyers $44,000.

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Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who filed the ethics complaint, said he was disappointed that the commission did not dig deeper into who paid, in case money was laundered. But Wayne endorsed the commission’s Tuesday decision to spare the accuser from testifying by accepting an agreement with Hoover.

Hoover agreed to pay a $1,000 fine, accepted a public reprimand and admitted that his actions violated the legislature’s ethics code.

The accuser’s lawyer told the commission that she was comfortable with that outcome.

The commission also obtained 49 pages of text messages between Hoover, R-Jamestown, and the staffer and a copy of the settlement that Hoover and three other lawmakers signed with her last year. The ethics commission last week dismissed complaints against Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green; Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge; and Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland.

The decision to let Hoover settle the case left unexamined behind-the-scenes machinations that still could be brought to light in two lawsuits filed by legislative staffers claiming that they were targeted for retaliation after the settlement became public. One of the staffers was fired, the other still works for the House.

The lone woman on the Legislative Ethics Commission, Pat Freibert, cast the only vote against accepting the agreement, preferring that the case go to a hearing with testimony from witnesses who were on deck. Freibert, who told us there were some questions she would have liked the accuser to answer, said she was “not comfortable with two attorneys making the decision.”

In response to the Hoover case, the House approved a bill — now stalled in the Senate — that would give legislative staffers a telephone tip line for reporting harassment and an expedited process for resolving harassment complaints. The stalled bill also would establish sexual harassment as a punishable violation of the legislative ethics code.

Even without a new law, Hoover’s disgrace — he resigned as speaker last January — surely has made legislators more aware than ever that voters did not elect them to ogle, trifle or otherwise create a hostile work environment for legislative employees.

Hoover told the commission that “for 16 years I thought the most important thing for Jeff Hoover was to be speaker of the House.” Too bad he also seemed to think that one of the perks of that powerful office was sexting a staffer in her early 20s.

Lexington Herald-Leader