Report on harassment claims being sent to Ethics Commission

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - The Kentucky House Republican Caucus plans to send the findings of a report on harassment claims among House members to the Ethics Commission.

Friday was the deadline House leadership gave to Louisville-based law firm Middleton-Reutlinger to hand over preliminary findings in their investigation into sexual harassment claims among state lawmakers.

Investigators interviewed 40 individuals and reviewed thousands of emails during their investigation, but said one current and one former staff member refused to cooperate.

Through all of the allegations, House Democrats have asked that the Legislative Ethics Commission handle the investigation because of their subpoena power.

The investigation began last month when allegations surfaced that then-House Speaker Jeff Hoover secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a female staffer. Michael Meredith, Brian Linder, and Jim DeCesare were also named.

Attorneys from the law firm say the former staff member who accused the lawmakers, along with a current staff member who knew of the allegations, did not agree to be interviewed. While the Republican House members did submit to interviews, they would not discuss specifics in reference to a demand letter or the allegations leading to the settlement citing a confidentiality clause.

While Hoover admitted to sending inappropriate text messages, investigators say the lawmakers involved did not allow them to search their email accounts. They say no one other than the claimant reported harassment, but that does not mean other messages do not exist.

Jordan Morgan, the daughter of Rep. Wesley Morgan (R- 81st District), says Meredith sent her inappropriate messages while she worked for Governor Matt Bevin.

"You can't have a relationship with a person who is subordinate to you," said Rep. Wesley Morgan. "If there are other people out there, and we do know that there are some, I wish they could come forward so the truth can come out and everything can get cleansed, and start over, and people suffer the consequences of whatever those consequences are."

The attorneys say at this time, they have not found evidence of anything that would "rise to the level of sexual harassment," but because of a lack of cooperation, they cannot fully answer that question. In addition, they concluded they did not find evidence supporting public or "inappropriate" funds were used in the settlement. However, they cannot rule it out completely because of not having access to certain documents.

In the statement sent on Friday by Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, he stated, "To be clear, I am not personally alleging any violations of Kentucky law or ethics rules, but am simply formalizing the hand off of this matter in the manner prescribed to me by the Director of the Legislative Ethics Commission."

Osborne said he is also looking into creating a bi-partisan task force, which would develop a formal system for reporting, addressing, and investigating workplace complaints.

Gov. Matt Bevin, who spoke about this issue on a West Virginia radio show Thursday, acknowledged the sexual harassment issues in Frankfort have slowed down his efforts on pension reform. However, he says he still plans on calling a special session this month. The general assembly begins Jan. 3.

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