FRANKFORT, KY (CHNI) - Four Republican lawmakers facing sexual harassment allegations waived a preliminary hearing before the Kentucky Ethics Commission Tuesday setting up a public hearing on the charges sometime before mid-April.
Former Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge and Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, were all present for Tuesday's hearing and represented by counsel, according to commission Chairman George Troutman.
Hoover, DeCesare and Meredith are represented by Lexington attorney Leslie Vose while former U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey represents Linder.
The four are subjects of an ethics complaint filed by Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, following published reports they and Hoover's chief of staff signed a confidential settlement of sexual harassment charges by a female legislative aide.
Hoover subsequently admitted to sending "inappropriate text messages" to the woman but said he did not engage in a physical relationship or sexual harassment. He resigned as Speaker last week, but eight Republican lawmakers have filed a resolution seeking his expulsion from the House.
The Ethics Commission is acting on Wayne's complaint, and Tuesday's hearing was to determine if there is sufficient evidence or merit to the complaint to proceed with the investigation.
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Troutman emphasized that by waiving the preliminary hearing, the lawmakers were in no way admitting guilt.
In fact, Hoover and his supporters have publicly called for the Ethics Commission to act. Hoover went so far as to say in his resignation speech on the House floor he delayed resigning in hopes the commission might act as early as Jan. 9 - before it rescheduled its January meeting for Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Now after attorneys for the four lawmakers waived the right to a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, Troutman said the commission can move more quickly to conduct a public hearing to determine what action might be appropriate.
Troutman said he wants to hold the public hearing prior to the end of the 2018 General Assembly which must conclude by April 15.
The commission can levy fines of up to $2,000; issue a public reprimand; issue a private reprimand, or recommend action to the House. Only the full House can expel a sitting member, but the commission conceivably could recommend such action.
The commission can also subpoena witnesses and records, presumably including the confidential settlement signed by the lawmakers or a "demand letter" from the legislative aide seeking relief from the alleged sexual harassment.
"I've already signed numerous subpoenas," Troutman said after Tuesday's meeting, though he wouldn't say for what sort of documents or witnesses.