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Oregon Legislature to release sexual harassment records

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The Oregon Justice Building that houses the state appeals court is seen in Salem, Ore., today.

SALEM, Ore. >> After losing an appeal, leaders in the Oregon Legislature said today they’ll obey a judge’s order to turn over documents to the state’s labor commissioner, who is investigating sexual harassment at the Capitol.

Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek said they would do so only reluctantly. Their decision came just hours after the Oregon Appeals Court dismissed their appeal of a lower court’s ruling that they comply with Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian’s bid to get the materials. Courtney and Kotek had said they were worried about protecting the anonymity of those who came forward and didn’t want to be identified.

The #MeToo campaign that swept the nation felled one lawmaker in the Oregon statehouse, Sen. Jeff Kruse, who was accused of inappropriate behavior by several female lawmakers and interns. The Republican senator announced his resignation in February, after an independent investigation verified many of the complaints.

Avakian, the commissioner of the bureau labor and industries, known as BOLI, sent shock waves into the Capitol during the summer when he accused Courtney and Kotek —— both fellow Democrats —— of allowing a sexually hostile environment and of being slow to protect women from Kruse. Courtney and Kruse denied Avakian’s accusations and said his investigation would have a chilling effect on others to come forward when they face harassment.

“I worked as hard as I could to protect those who had come forward about working conditions,” Courtney said in a statement today. “Sadly BOLI and the courts have ordered the Legislature to hand over all confidential records of these individuals.”

Kotek said she hopes Avakian can protect the confidentiality of all those who are identified in the records and who want to remain anonymous. Labor agency lawyer Nena Cook earlier said the alleged victims’ information would be kept private under a protective order.

James Nass, a state appeals court commissioner, late Tuesday terminated a temporary stay on a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge’s decision that the lawmakers deliver the documents, and he tossed their appeal.

“The court vacates the order granting a temporary stay and denies appellants’ motion for stay pending appeal,” Nass wrote. “Appeal dismissed.”

Kotek said the Legislature will comply with the court order.

Multnomah County Judge Christopher Marshall in Portland had ruled on Nov. 19 that Oregon legislative leaders must comply with BOLI’s subpoenas for documents and testimony, saying they were reasonable and had been issued lawfully. He also found the Legislature’s top officials initially had cause to object, rejecting the labor agency’s request for a contempt order and $1,000-a-day fines.

Besides Courtney and Kotek, Avakian’s complaint names the Legislature’s human resources chief and top lawyer, the Legislature and the Department of Administrative Services, which handles human resources for much of the state government.

Courtney fired back in his statement, saying “the executive branch and the judicial branch have made it very difficult for the legislative branch to have a healthy and safe workplace.”

Subpoenas related to Avakian’s complaint have requested names and information about all employees, student interns, or lobbyists and all documents relating to allegations of harassment for almost an eight-year period, the Legislature’s outside attorney, Edwin Harnden, has said.

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