Oklahoma lawmaker accused of sexual harassment won't testify

AP News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2017 6:17 PM
Oklahoma lawmaker accused of sexual harassment won't testify

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Tulsa Republican legislator accused of sexual harassment by two former legislative assistants said Monday he won't cooperate with a special closed-door state House committee looking into the allegations and the use of government funds to settle with one of his accusers.

Rep. Dan Kirby said in a statement he has serious concerns about the secretive nature of the panel, which met again on Monday to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against him and a second lawmaker. The committee also is looking into whether the former House speaker had the legal authority to settle the claim using House funds.

Kirby said neither he nor his attorney has been provided with a list of witnesses or any documents connected to the investigation. He also voiced concern about a committee rule that allows the chairman of the panel to deny a witness access to his or her attorney.

"In any case, the accused is always guaranteed access to testimony and evidence so that he can properly defend himself," Kirby said. "However, the actions of the chairman and the committee have limited my ability to defend myself. Until the committee can guarantee a fair process I cannot subject myself to a blind interrogation."

The committee chairman, state Rep. Josh Cockroft, said the reason for conducting the meetings in private is to protect confidential information of victims and witnesses. He said allowing such details to become public could discourage employees from coming forward in the future with claims of harassment or abuse.

"What Rep. Kirby seems to want is the opportunity to cross-examine his accusers, and that is simply not going to happen," Cockroft said Monday. "It was explained to Rep. Kirby that this process is closed to protect the victims, not the elected officials."

"If he believes he did nothing wrong, he has nothing to hide."

Kirby, who has denied sexually harassing the two women, initially said he planned to resign last month after The Oklahoman newspaper first reported on the settlement. He later rescinded his resignation, saying it was based upon bad advice, and that he plans to serve out the rest of his term. Kirby was re-elected to a fourth term in November with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

Kirby's former legislative assistant and her attorneys were paid $44,500 out of House funds to settle her complaint that she was fired in November 2015 without an explanation in retaliation for reporting the alleged harassment. State finance records show the woman accepted a payment of more than $28,000 and her attorneys accepted more than $16,000.

Former House Speaker Jeff Hickman has acknowledged that he approved the settlement shortly before his term ended to save on the potential costs of litigation.

Since The Oklahoman first reported on the settlement, a second woman who worked for Kirby has come forward and told the newspaper that he sexually harassed her.

Kirby acknowledged in his statement that he allowed his relationship with the second woman "to go beyond a strictly professional, working relationship and for that I apologize."

State Rep. William Fourkiller, the second accused lawmaker, also has declined to appear before the committee, citing its secretive nature.

Fourkiller, a Democrat, acknowledged an incident in April 2015 in which the House general counsel and an employee of the chief clerk's office told him he had made a high school page "feel uncomfortable," but he said the young woman was never identified and that he doesn't know what he said or did to prompt her complaint.

Two of the three Democrats appointed by new House Speaker Charles McCall to serve on the panel also have declined to participate, expressing concern about a requirement that they sign a confidentiality agreement prohibiting members from discussing their work.

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This story has been corrected to reflect the spelling of the chairman's name is Cockroft.

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