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Former Staffer Alleges Sexual Assault, ‘Nearly Daily Touching’ By Jeff Hoover In Sealed Deposition

Ryland Barton

When the woman who would become known as Jane Doe started working for the Kentucky House Republican caucus in 2015, she remembers a senior staffer saying her responsibility was “to keep Jeff Hoover happy.”

At the time, the woman was 21. Ky. Representative Jeff Hoover of Jamestown was the leader of the Republican minority in the state House of Representatives. Within two years, Hoover would become the first Republican speaker of the House in nearly a century.

And according to testimony the staffer gave under oath in October 2018, Hoover sexually assaulted her more than 50 times during her employment, groping her in the hallway or in the elevator and touching her between her legs under the table at gatherings.

She described it as “nearly daily touching,” and said she didn’t feel as though she could ask him to stop.

Two of the woman’s former supervisors have filed suit against the Legislative Research Commission, alleging they were retaliated against for reporting Doe’s sexual harassment allegations against Hoover.

She testified under subpoena, and a judge has temporarily sealed the transcript of her deposition. But a copy was obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Kentucky Public Radio.

The testimony represents the first time Doe’s allegations against Hoover have been explained in her own words. She also shed light on the details of her sexual harassment allegations against three other lawmakers who were parties to the settlement.

Although the $110,000 settlement prevents her from speaking publicly about the allegations, she had to answer questions due to the subpoena.

KyCIR doesn’t identify alleged victims of sexual harassment or assault without their consent, and the staffer is identified in some court records as Jane Doe. Doe declined to be interviewed for this story.

Hoover’s attorneys have asked for, and been granted, the right to intervene in the lawsuit and cross-examine Doe. Hoover’s attorneys were not present at the October deposition.

Hoover did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday night. His attorney, Leslie Vose, replied on Hoover’s behalf and said he would have nothing to say about Doe’s allegations.

“We believe that there are significant pieces of her testimony that need to be examined more carefully,” Vose said. “And that’s the reason that we have sought to take her deposition, and thus far we’ve not been able to achieve that.”

News of Hoover’s inappropriate behavior first surfaced in 2017, when Courier Journal reported that he had signed a secret out-of-court settlement with Doe over undisclosed allegations. Hoover resigned as speaker of the House in January 2018, though he resisted calls from Gov. Matt Bevin to step down from the legislature.

Hoover, 58, continues to represent the 83rd House District after he was reelected to his 12th term last year. He has repeatedly said that he only exchanged “inappropriate text messages” with Doe and denied any further misconduct.

In a statement issued through his lawyers in December 2017, Hoover said: “I have never engaged in sexual contact of any kind with any staff member during my 21 years in Frankfort. Never.”

But under oath and subpoena in the whistleblower lawsuits, the woman testified on October 2 that she felt coerced by Hoover. She said they never had sex, but that Hoover touched her breasts, buttocks and vagina without her consent.

She also acknowledged that she and Hoover exchanged flirtatious texts, and that she once sent him a nude photo of herself and invited him to her apartment.

She said in the deposition that she did these things because she believed Hoover wanted her to — and she “absolutely” was afraid to challenge or refuse him.

“I knew by doing so that I would be ending my career in politics, because he controlled it,” she said.

Doe said she told supervisors. They initially told her to address the problem by staying away from Hoover, Doe said.

“I didn’t know what to do because he was my boss,” she testified. “He was coming on to me and I didn’t know how to handle it.”

‘I had no choice’

In her deposition, Doe defined sexual assault as “unwanted physical touching and advances.” She said Hoover’s actions met that definition “constantly” during her time at the Capitol.

She started work as a policy analyst in February 2015, and said the harassment began “from the time I started working there.”

She was working closely with Hoover at the Capitol by the summer. He texted her a few months later, asking for a recommendation about where to get a massage. She told a higher-ranking staffer what Hoover asked, according to her testimony.

“[The staffer] responded to me and said that what he was looking for was for me to tell him that I would give him a good massage,” Doe testified.

Doe doesn’t say precisely when she alleges Hoover started touching her, but she describes incidents as early as the 2016 legislative session.

“Constantly on our way to the Capitol he would grope me in the elevator,” Doe testified.

She said that she never told Hoover that she didn’t want him to touch her, but on a couple occasions, she tried to push him away, or move his hands and laugh it off. She didn’t consider it consensual, Doe testified.

Doe also said that Hoover was “extremely aggressive and possessive,” at one point admonishing her for meeting privately with a male Democratic staffer.

“And that evening Jeff Hoover had called me on my cell phone and was screaming at me… that I didn’t need to be behind closed doors with other men, even though I was behind closed doors with [Hoover] regularly,” Doe said.

Hoover also confronted her, she said, for socializing with other lawmakers at a gathering she said was referred to as “Mass.”

At Mass, legislators and lobbyists smoked cigars and drank bourbon after hours during the legislative session, Doe said. She said Hoover was walking down the hallway and “essentially pinned [her] against the wall,” screaming.

“He was in my face with his finger pointing in my chest screaming at me, how dare I go to Mass, I don’t need to be around those other men, that I just needed to leave after work was over and not hang around them,” Doe said.

In her testimony, Doe detailed other examples of what she considered “sexual behaviors,” such as Hoover asking her to spread her legs so that he could look up her dress.

In another instance, she said, Hoover came up behind her at work and lifted her dress — “to look at my underwear.”

During a staff dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings in Frankfort, Doe said that Hoover touched her between her legs with his foot, under the table. After dinner, she said Hoover summoned her to his truck in the parking lot.

He lifted up her dress while he “was grabbing at my underwear and touching between my legs while he was groping himself,” she testified. “I was pulling my dress down in the truck and just tried to laugh it off and move his hand.”

During the deposition, Legislative Research Commission attorney Paul Harnice asked her why she got into Hoover’s truck.

“Because he told me to get in the truck,” she replied. “I had no choice.”

Doe testified that she also took a nude photo of herself that night at Hoover’s request and sent it to him.

Harnice again asked her why.

“Because he wanted it, and he was my boss,” she said.

The text message exchange, which was publicly released by the Legislative Ethics Commission last year, shows that Hoover asked her to delete the photo so no one would see it. In the deposition, she said she deleted it “because I was embarrassed that I sent it and didn’t want to see it.”

She said she didn’t feel comfortable refusing or reporting Hoover’s behavior, because she feared that she would be retaliated against and lose opportunities for advancement.

“I absolutely loved my job that I was doing and wanted to continue to work in politics,” she said. “Filing a police report or taking any action would ruin any chance of advancing, and I think my life now is a perfect example of that.”

Doe quit her job in November of 2017, shortly after the allegations became public. She said in the deposition that she worried that the chief of staff of the House Republican caucus, Ginger Wills, was “forming a path to fire” her.

Wills and others had raised concerns that Doe had an inappropriate relationship with Hoover in the months before the settlement, Doe said.

She said in the October deposition that she was unemployed.

Wills could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Navy Training Spurs Reporting

Doe said she enlisted in the Navy Reserves in October 2016, while she was working at the Capitol.

After she took leave to go to boot camp in May 2017, she was required to undergo sexual harassment training that she said the Navy took “extremely seriously.”

The military training — and time away from the Capitol — caused her to rethink staying quiet about the harassment she had experienced.

State lawmakers are required to take sexual harassment training at the beginning of each legislative session. But Doe said in her deposition that the LRC’s sexual harassment program was “not taken seriously.” Doe said employees described it as “a joke… people in the room giggling,” making light of the training and exchanging flippant text messages.

The Navy’s sexual harassment training, Doe said, was different. When Doe got back, she said she began compiling the incidents that would go into the demand letter her attorneys sent to Hoover.

Doe’s testimony also detailed the sexual harassment allegations against other Republican lawmakers who signed Doe’s settlement: Rep. Michael Meredith, from Oakland, and former Reps. Brian Linder, from Dry Ridge, and Jim DeCesare, from Bowling Green.

Meredith, Linder and DeCesare were removed from their committee chairmanships after the allegations first surfaced in 2017. Some details emerged during an April 2018 ethics hearing, but only that Meredith said something vulgar, and that Linder and DeCesare sent inappropriate texts to Doe.

In her testimony, Doe alleged that Meredith made the vulgar statement during a legislative conference in Lexington in 2016, which she attended with Daisy Olivo, her supervisor at the time.

Meredith approached her and Olivo screaming, Doe said.

“Asking me why I wouldn’t f–k him, begging me to have sex with him,” Doe said.

Doe said that Meredith told her in explicit terms that he wanted to ejaculate on her.

Meredith won reelection to his fifth term in House District 19 seat last fall. In December, he was once again appointed to chair the House Local Government Committee.

Doe said that Linder sent her multiple inappropriate text messages and “constantly” commented on her appearance, telling her she was sexy.

He also said he wanted to come to her hotel room and perform a sex act on her, she testified.

DeCesare asked Doe to come to his apartment during a legislative session, she said in the deposition.

Neither Linder nor DeCesare ran for re-election.

Linder and Meredith could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. DeCesare declined to discuss Doe’s allegation.

And when Doe asked former Rep. Brad Montell to donate to a political candidate she was working for, she said he told her he “would only donate if I sat in his lap and signed the checks for him.”

Montell was not involved in the settlement. He currently serves as director of government relations for the state Department of Education.

Montell could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Ethics Process Rarely Brings Serious Consequences

Hoover, Meredith, DeCesare and Linder did face an ethics inquiry after then-Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat, filed a complaint against them.

But since there’s no explicit ban on legislators sexually harassing employees, the complaint alleged the lawmakers violated House ethics rules by secretly settling a sexual harassment allegation.

Hoover has said he exchanged sexually charged text messages with Doe that he acknowledged were inappropriate, but he said his conduct was consensual and didn’t extend beyond texts.

The Legislative Ethics Commission negotiated privately with Hoover to settle the complaint. He was fined $1,000 and publicly reprimanded. The commission voted to dismiss the complaint against the three other lawmakers.

The whole scene was familiar in the Capitol, where Doe’s case was one of several harassment scandals in the past two decades.

Doe’s case follows numerous examples of male legislator misconduct with female staffers in Kentucky.

KyCIR has detailed some of those questionable relationships, dating back to the antics of Kent Downey in the late 1990s, in recent investigations.

Downey, who was director of House operations, sometimes drank and caroused at work. He put strippers on the state payroll and adorned his office with pictures of scantily clad women and a small plant with condoms hanging from the branches.

Downey was fired in 1996 and convicted the following year for promoting prostitution and gambling. Some legislators pledged change, and shenanigans appeared to have subsided under the leadership of Robert Sherman, who took over as director in 1999.

But in 2013, yet another scandal with sexual overtones gripped the Capitol.

Two statehouse employees filed a lawsuit against longtime Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, saying he inappropriately touched them and made lewd comments in numerous incidents. In the lawsuit, the women also accused Sherman and high-ranking House leaders of not doing enough to protect them and covering up Arnold’s alleged harassment, which he denied.

Arnold resigned in September 2013. The Legislative Ethics Commission found Arnold guilty the following spring of three ethics violations. Arnold was reprimanded and fined $3,000.

The LRC commissioned an audit of its operations following employees’ accusations that the state agency had done little to protect staffers from workplace sexual harassment.

But when the long-anticipated performance audit was released in January 2015, it gave scant attention to the issue that led to the review — workplace sexual harassment. It provided only a brief review of the LRC’s sexual harassment training practices, and noted that employees didn’t take the commission’s sexual harassment training seriously.

The LRC’s policy manual prohibits a wide range of sexual behavior ranging from lewd language to inappropriate touching. But the manual only applies to nonpartisan employees.

Partisan commission employees, such as Doe, are supposed to “consult their respective leadership office for information on the human-resources policies,” according to the policy manual.

Doe’s direct supervisor was Olivo, the House Republican caucus’ communications director. Olivo’s boss was Brad Metcalf, chief of staff for the caucus. Metcalf was fired in January 2018 and Olivo was fired in late 2018.

Olivo and Metcalf are the plaintiffs in the whistleblower lawsuits for which Doe testified; they both reported to Hoover and the caucus. Reached Tuesday evening, Olivo declined comment. Metcalf couldn’t be reached for comment.

Partisan employees like Doe serve at the pleasure of their political bosses and can be fired for any reason.

Attempts To Ban Harassment Unsuccessful, So Far

Proposals to formalize the sexual harassment complaint process have failed in recent legislative sessions.

This year, Democratic Rep. Kelly Flood of Lexington has filed legislation that would create an explicit ban on sexual harassment in the statehouse and a process to handle complaints.

The bill would give the Legislative Ethics Commission jurisdiction over investigating alleged harassment among legislators, lobbyists and legislative employees.

The legislation would also create a tip line, set up a 30-day complaint process and require the LRC to create an annual report on harassment complaints.

Flood’s bill has been referred to the House State Government Committee. The bill’s prospects in the Republican-dominated legislature are unclear.

Doe said in her deposition that as a partisan staff member, she did not think she had the option of filing a sexual harassment complaint against Hoover with the LRC’s human-resources department.

She said she also believed that if she reported it to her immediate supervisor, Hoover might take action against her.

“He had the will to fire me for any reason.”

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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