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Kentucky lawmaker back in leadership after harassment case

FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2018 file photo, State Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, speaks at a Republican Party rally at Highland Stables in Bowling Green, Ky. Republican leaders in Kentucky have restored the lawmaker to his leadership position one year after he signed a secret sexual harassment settlement. Meredith was one of four Republican lawmakers who signed the settlement in 2017 with a woman who once worked for the House GOP Caucus. Meredith was renamed chairman of the House Local Government Committee on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Bac Totrong/Daily News via AP, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican leaders in Kentucky have restored a state lawmaker to his leadership position more than a year after he signed a secret sexual harassment settlement.

State Rep. Michael Meredith was one of four Republican lawmakers who signed the $110,000 settlement in 2017 with a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus. The lawmakers did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, but all four ended up losing their leadership positions, including Jeff Hoover, who stepped down as House speaker.

Republican leaders restored Meredith on Wednesday as chairman of the House Local Government Committee, which vets proposed legislation about local roads, police and fire departments and other local matters.

"With these appointments, we are putting our best foot forward for the people of Kentucky," incoming GOP House Speaker David Osborne said in a news release announcing the committee leaders.

Meredith did not return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment. Osborne, through a spokesman, did not directly answer questions about why Meredith was returned to his leadership role.

"We took into account a variety of different factors, including geographic balance, seniority, and the focused areas of expertise within our caucus," Osborne said.

The settlement came to light during the height of the #metoo movement, when multiple prominent men in entertainment, media and politics were exposed for inappropriate behavior toward women in the workplace. At the time, Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin called on all four lawmakers to resign from the legislature. A spokeswoman for Bevin did not respond to a phone and email message on Wednesday seeking comment about Meredith.

Meredith's restoration comes one week after Republicans elected Osborne to replace Hoover as Kentucky's next House speaker. One of the new GOP leadership team's first acts was to fire Communications Director Daisy Olivo, who was the supervisor of the woman who made the sexual harassment allegations. Olivo has a pending lawsuit against the state, alleging she was punished for reporting the harassment.

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Meredith has never spoken publicly about the settlement, which was handled outside of court, paid for with private funds and required everyone to keep it a secret. But he did face a complaint before the Legislative Ethics Commission after the settlement was revealed by an article in the Courier Journal. An investigator told the commission Meredith was included in the settlement because he made a "vulgar statement" to the woman. The commission then voted to dismiss the complaint against him.

Since then, the woman who originally made the accusations has testified as part of Olivo's civil lawsuit. Leslie Vose, an attorney for Meredith, Hoover and DeCesare, persuaded a judge to temporarily keep portions of the woman's testimony hidden from the public. Vose is now attempting to cross-examine the woman to rebut some of her claims. A hearing on that issue is scheduled for later this month.

Hoover has denied accusations of sexual harassment but said he did send the woman inappropriate but consensual text messages.

Linder and DeCesare did not run for re-election in November. Hoover and Meredith were both re-elected in November. Hoover did not face opposition. Meredith defeated a Democrat with more than 61 percent of the vote.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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