An ethics commission’s investigation of former House Speaker Jeff Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers in Kentucky will skip ahead to a public hearing to determine whether they violated standards.
The four legislators on Tuesday waived a preliminary “probable cause” hearing before the ethics panel investigating their involvement in a secret sexual harassment settlement.
Bypassing the preliminary hearing — which determines whether probable cause exists for the ethics complaint against them — happens “more often than not,” said George Troutman, chairman of the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission.
“By them saying they wanted this, there is no indication that they’re admitting guilt,” Troutman said.
The next step is to schedule an adjudicatory hearing for Hoover and fellow GOP Reps. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green, Brian Linder of Dry Ridge and Michael Meredith of Oakland.
The commission, which has the power to subpoena witnesses, will hear testimony and review evidence at the public hearing.
Troutman said he plans to pick a hearing date in two weeks, with the goal of having it before the legislative session ends in mid-April.
“From the commission’s point of view, we want to get this over with in as expeditious manner as we can, but not to the detriment of hearing all the evidence,” he said.
The commission met behind closed doors for more than hour Tuesday. The lawmakers and their attorneys were at the meeting, Troutman said. Hoover and Linder declined comment beforehand.
Linder identified his attorney as former U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey, who declined to discuss the case before the meeting.
Troutman told reporters that the commission was acting on a complaint filed late last year by Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville. The House Republican leadership team also filed a complaint.
Among other things, the investigation will look at whether the four lawmakers used money from political donors or registered lobbyists to make the settlement payment.
“The complaint, barring some legal technicality, will not be dismissed,” Troutman said. “The complaint will be acted upon — either you take the handcuffs off, you’re free to go home, or you’re guilty as charged and the appropriate punishment would be determined.”
The panel’s range of possible punishments includes fines of up to $2,000 per violation as well as public or confidential reprimands. The commission also could recommend that the full House punish a member, which could include actions up to expulsion, at the legislative chamber’s discretion.
Wayne said later that he looked forward to “an open and honest fact-finding procedure that reveals the truth behind the alleged misconduct and the source of the secret financial settlement.”
Hoover resigned his leadership position earlier this month but retained his House seat after acknowledging he paid an undisclosed amount to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by a member of his staff.
Hoover denied sexually harassing the person, but said he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages.
Meanwhile, an attorney for the former legislative employee who raised the sexual harassment allegations said a prosecutor for the ethics commission has a copy of the secret settlement, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Tuesday.
The attorney, Garry Adams, said the prosecutor had already obtained the settlement when Adams met with the prosecutor to hand over subpoenaed text messages between his client and the House members.
Kara Daniel, a lawyer for the commission, said the settlement will not be made public until the commission makes a ruling on the ethics complaint against the four lawmakers, the Lexington newspaper reported.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has urged all four of the lawmakers to resign, but they have ignored his request.
The other three lawmakers involved in the settlement lost their committee chairmanships.