Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration “willfully” withheld records of sexual-harassment complaints, a judge ruled in two separate cases in the past two weeks, contradicting Bevin’s call for officials who have secretly settled harassment cases to resign.
Bevin, a Republican who is up for re-election in November, spoke out against GOP legislators in November 2017 after they were accused of sexual harassment or doing nothing to protect the accuser.
“Given the severity of these, the specificity of these, the nature of these, I am calling on the immediate and for the immediate resignation of every individual who has settled a sexual harassment case, who is party to trying to hide this type of behavior,” the governor said at the time.
But courts have had to step in recently on three occasions — two of them this month — to compel Bevin’s administration to release records about sexual harassment investigations.
In October, Judge Phillip Shepherd of the Franklin County Circuit Court ruled that two state agencies — the Financial and Administration Cabinet and the Labor Cabinet — had to release its records about sexual harassment, regardless of whether investigations found evidence of misconduct, after denying to give them over to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
On April 9, Shepherd ruled that the state’s Labor Cabinet “willfully withheld non-exempt information without plausible justification” and forced the state to pay KyCIR’s attorney’s fees.
On Wednesday, Shepherd ruled against the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which was suing the Courier-Journal, the state’s largest newspaper, to keep it from getting records about a sexual-harassment investigation.
“In this case, because both employees were high-level appointees of the governor whose actions and responsibilities were very much in the public eye, the public’s right to know is especially heightened,” Shepherd wrote, ordering the agency to release the records and pay the Courier-Journal’s legal fees.
The case stemmed from allegations of harassment that the former commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, Adria Johnson, made against a colleague when she resigned in June.
The Courier-Journal reported that Johnson said the colleague expressed interest in a sexual relationship with her while they were out of town for a conference and walked by an adult store.
When she “expressed astonishment,” the colleague told her, “Come on, Commissioner, it’s just sex,” the newspaper reported.