FRANKFORT, Ky. — Three of the four Republican lawmakers in Kentucky who helped pay a woman $110,000 to secretly settle a sexual harassment claim against them will not face ethics charges after a state ethics commission voted to dismiss a complaint against them.
The Legislative Ethics Commission ruled Tuesday that a complaint against Republican Reps. Brian Linder, Michael Meredith and Jim DeCesare did not contain sufficient allegations to go forward. A complaint against GOP Rep. Jeff Hoover, who resigned as House speaker in January, will continue.
All four men signed a secret sexual harassment settlement in October with a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus. Hoover later denied sexual harassment, but said he sent the woman inappropriate but consensual text messages.
The other three have never said publicly why they signed the settlement. But their attorneys revealed Tuesday that DeCesare sent the woman a text message during the 2016 legislative session telling her he was finished with his work and she was “free to come over.” Meredith made a “vulgar statement” to the woman and Linder sent her one text message, the contents of which were not disclosed.
Prosecutor Michael Malone told the commission he did not have “sufficient proof” to support the charge against DeCesare. He said he did have evidence to support charges against Meredith and Linder, but the commission would have to decide if it was enough to convict them. The commission did not hear most of that evidence publicly.
Commissioner Anthony Goetz said he was not comfortable proceeding with charges against the three lawmakers, but added there was too much evidence to dismiss the complaint against Hoover.
“There has been some wrongdoing here. Too many people have reported the same things,” he said.
DeCesare, Linder and Meredith all declined to comment after the hearing.
Kerry Harvey, who represents Linder, said the commission had to dismiss the complaint because it wasn’t properly filed. He argued state law requires the person filing the complaint to swear the allegations are true. Wayne testified Tuesday that he did not know if the events described in his complaint happened. He also argued that while sexual harassment is offensive, it’s not specifically prohibited by the state’s ethics code.
“You might say it should be (prohibited), and I agree with you,” Harvey told the commission, adding: “Don’t let the desire to want to do something about a real problem cause you to ignore the legal framework that we work in. If we abandon that, then we really have no process to deal with these sort of things.”
Hoover’s attorney Leslie Vose acknowledged the allegations against him are different and did not ask the commission to dismiss the complaint against him, but said she might do that later. The commission scheduled a hearing next week, where it could hear testimony from the woman and other witnesses. Commission chairman Anthony Wilhoit signed several subpoenas on Tuesday compelling witnesses to testify, but Malone would not identify them.
If convicted of an ethics violation, the commission could fine Hoover or recommend the House of Representatives expel him.
Malone said his investigation has confirmed the lawmakers paid the woman $110,000. He said the money did not come from taxpayers but was comprised of loans from a bank and family members. His investigation included an interview with the woman who made the allegations. He also reviewed the settlement agreement, a portion of which was read publicly on Tuesday but was not made available to the media. It appeared to preclude the woman from filing lawsuits against several third parties, including the Kentucky Republican Party and the House Republican Caucus Campaign Committee.