The sworn testimony of a former female staffer who accused former Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover and other lawmakers of sexual harassment is graphic, according to lawyers involved in two related lawsuits.
It likely is highly embarrassing, they said at a hearing in Franklin Circuit Court Wednesday.
But that’s no reason to seal portions of a deposition provided by Marissa Espinosa, a former employee of the Legislative Research Commission who entered a confidential settlement last year with four Republican lawmakers over her claims of sexual harassment, assault and retaliation, they said.
“This is a public case,” lawyer Shane Sidebottom told Judge Phillip Shepherd. “That may be embarrassing, but it’s her testimony and this is a Kentucky whistleblower case.”
Sidebottom and Hans Poppe represent two other legislative employees who filed whistleblower lawsuits over retaliation they allege occurred when they learned of and tried to report the harassment.
But Leslie Vose, a lawyer for Reps. Hoover, of Jamestown, Michael Meredith, of Brownsville, and Jim DeCesare, of Bowling Green, argued it’s appropriate for the judge to seal or redact certain portions of testimony she said relate to the settlement that all parties agreed was to remain confidential.
“It was extremely important to both sides,” she said.
The settlement, which also was signed by Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, became public after the Courier Journal reported it last November.
Vose said the three lawmakers she represents want to redact specific testimony that appears on 40 pages of the 259-page deposition.
Wednesday’s hearing was to resolve whether the three lawmakers can succeed in withholding those details from the deposition Espinosa provided in October. She provided it as part of lawsuits filed by one current and one former legislative employee against the Legislative Research Commission.
Daisy Olivo, a current legislative employee, and Brad Metcalf, who was fired after reports of the settlement became public, allege retaliation by their employer after they attempted to handle the allegations internally.
Hoover resigned as speaker in January but remains in the legislature. He, DeCesare and Meredith are not involved in the lawsuits.
Nor is Espinosa involved in those lawsuits. But Sidebottom and Hans Poppe, lawyers for Olivo and Metcalf, said they plan to use her testimony as evidence of what she told co-workers about the alleged harassment.
Espinosa was not at the hearing, and Gail Langendorf, her lawyer, said Espinosa has no comment other than that she provided the testimony after she received a subpoena.
“She testified truthfully and accurately as to sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct while she was a public employee at the LRC,” Langendorf said.
Shepherd didn’t immediately rule on whether to seal portions of the deposition before it is filed publicly. Shepherd, who is the judge on Olivo’s case, said he first wants to confer with Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate, who is the judge in Metcalf’s case, and sat in on Wednesday’s hearing.
“We’ll try to sort this out in a way that’s fair to everybody and respects the public’s right to know,” Shepherd said.
Vose declined to comment after the hearing.
Poppe and Sidebottom said afterward that the allegations laid out in Espinosa’s testimony are detailed and disturbing, involving multiple instances of unwanted physical contact, comments, pictures and text messages, mostly involving Hoover.
Hoover has denied a sexual relationship with Espinosa but has acknowledged sending her inappropriate text messages.
He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday at his legislative office.
Sidebottom said the conduct began after Espinosa came to work at the legislature at age 19. He and Poppe said that in her deposition, she described some of the contact as “assault.”
They also said that while Espinosa did not object to her name being used in connection with the deposition, they have asked the judge to allow them to withhold personal details such as her address and phone number.
Sidebottom said after news of the allegations became public, Espinosa said she received a message on social media from someone claiming to be a relative of Hoover that she perceived as threatening.
The lawyers also said while the more than six hours of testimony were grueling for Espinosa — particularly under cross-examination by a lawyer for the LRC — they found her to be a reliable witness.
“I found her testimony to be consistent, credible and compelling,” Poppe said.
Written by Deborah Yetter. Cross-posted with permission
from the Courier-Journal via the Kentucky Press News Service.