Kentucky judge temporarily seals some harassment testimony

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A woman's testimony describing graphic details of what she says was sexual harassment at the hands of Kentucky's former House speaker will remain hidden from the public — at least for a while.

Thursday, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd temporarily sealed portions of the woman's testimony that he says describes "allegations of boorish behavior and inappropriate physical contact" between the woman and Republican state Rep. Jeff Hoover, the former House speaker.

Shepherd ruled it wasn't fair for the woman to make the allegations in a publicly available deposition without giving an attorney for Hoover and others the chance to also question her. But it's unclear if Hoover's attorney, Leslie Vose, even wants to question the woman, a former employee of the House Republican Caucus who has asked not to be identified.

Last year, the woman signed a confidential settlement with four Republican lawmakers and another caucus employee. They agreed to pay her $110,000 in return for her not speaking publicly about the allegations. But the settlement was revealed by the Courier Journal, and it was eventually released to the public earlier this year as part of proceedings before the Legislative Ethics Commission.

After the settlement became known, two state employees — House Republican Caucus Communications Director Daisy Olivo and former House Clerk Brad Metcalf — filed lawsuits alleging GOP lawmakers punished them for reporting the harassment.

Last month, as part of those lawsuits, the woman who originally made the accusations testified in a lengthy deposition where attorneys say she detailed multiple instances of inappropriate behavior, including "unwanted touching." Hoover and the other Republican lawmakers are not part of that lawsuit, so their lawyer was not present to ask questions. Once the deposition was completed, attorneys for Olivo and Metcalf attempted to file it with the court, making it a public document.

That's when an attorney for three of the Republican lawmakers asked the judge to redact about 400 lines from the 269-page transcript. Vose argued those details must be hidden from the public because the woman is bound by the confidential legal settlement she signed last year.

Thursday, Shepherd ruled the confidential settlement "does not — and in the Court's judgment, cannot — bar her testimony under oath as a witness under subpoena in this related lawsuit." He also noted court rules allow for depositions to be sealed if someone can show "good cause" to "prevent annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense."

But instead of deciding whether portions of the transcript should be sealed, Shepherd said an attorney for the Republican lawmakers should ask the woman questions under oath sometime in the next 30 days. Shepherd ruled the deposition would automatically become public 10 days after that happens, unless the court rules otherwise.

Gail Langendorf, an attorney who represents the woman who made the accusations, said they have not decided how to respond. But, she said testifying a second time would be an "undue burden" for her client.

"If they wanted to challenge the allegations, they could have litigated the case. But they settled," Langendorf said. "She wants to move on with her life."

Vose, the attorney who represents the three Republican lawmakers, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Shane Sidebottom, an attorney who represents Olivo and Metcalf, said he would wait until Vose and her clients decide about whether to question the woman.

Although Hoover resigned as House speaker, he kept his seat in the state House of Representatives. He was re-elected on Tuesday without opposition. He has denied sexually harassing the woman, but said he did send her inappropriate but consensual text messages.

The other Republican lawmakers named in the settlement — Michael Meredith, Jim DeCesare and Brian Linder — also are still in the legislature. DeCesare and Linder did not run for re-election. Meredith was re-elected on Tuesday.

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This story has been corrected to show that only parts of the testimony were sealed.