Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration is investigating the circumstances of the sexual harassment allegations that have been lodged against a top aide to the governor who recently resigned.
But it's unclear how long the investigation might take or what its outcome could be, now that former Deputy Chief of Staff Johnny Anderson voluntarily quit his job while denying that he harassed anyone.
The investigation is being conducted by the human resources staff in the state Division of Administration, with direction from outside legal counsel, Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said Friday.
That same legal counsel, Baton Rouge powerhouse attorney Vicki Crochet, has been contracted by the state at an undisclosed cost to defend the administration if a lawsuit is filed over the claims.
Meanwhile, the governor's administration is also trying to defend itself against critics who say Edwards never should have hired Anderson, who had previously been accused of sexual harassment by female employees at Southern University when he served on his alma mater's governing board a decade ago.
Anderson has denied all sexual harassment allegations — past and present — that have been lodged against him. He spoke to The Advocate about the latest allegations after they were made the day before Thanksgiving but has not responded to multiple messages last week. It's unclear whether he has hired a lawyer, which he previously said he intended to do.
Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration has lawyered up in anticipation of potential litigation stemming from allegations that a former aide sex…
Edwards himself has not yet spoken publicly about the allegations against Anderson. The governor took part in his monthly call-in radio show on Nov. 22, which was after his office became aware of the sexual assault allegations, but before the claims were made public and Anderson resigned.
Though Edwards spoke briefly about the recent national outpouring of harassment allegations against high-profile men, the governor didn't mention the investigation brewing into one of his own close advisers.
"I can't help but think about all the victims out there who just want to go to work and pursue a profession that they like and they're subjected to all of this. It's really sad," Edwards said, speaking in general about workplace harassment, on his "Ask the Governor" radio show. "I'm hopeful that this discussion — this conversation we're having across the country today — is going to produce some real results."
Carbo, a deputy chief of staff to the governor, has described the sexual harassment policy in the governor's office as "zero tolerance," and he and other aides have defended Edwards as acting quickly to launch an investigation into the allegations against Anderson.
The governor's office has declined to elaborate on details about the nature of the allegations, who the accuser is or how she came into contact with Anderson.
The woman who accused Anderson was first publicly named in a form that the state used to hire its outside attorney "in anticipation of litigation" from the accuser. Though her name appears on the public document, The Advocate is not naming the woman because — despite multiple and varied attempts — the paper has been unable to reach her directly for comment and she has not come forward publicly.
Anderson, who is widowed, joined the governor's staff as Edwards took office in January 2016. A minister, Anderson has deep roots in the National Baptist Convention, an affiliation of predominantly black Baptist churches across the country that has unofficially been viewed as a force in Democratic politics across the South, as well as the Louisiana Home & Foreign Missions Baptist State Convention.
At least half a dozen sexual harassment complaints were lodged against Anderson around 2006 when he chaired the Southern University Board of Supervisors, which is the governing board for Louisiana's only historically black university system. Though the allegations against him prompted two investigations, served as legal fodder and became university gossip, Anderson was never determined to have done anything wrong.
"At the end of the day, there was no conclusion of wrongdoing," Carbo said Friday, defending the decision to hire him despite the past claims.
A state panel will hold a hearing next week to review the Louisiana Legislature's sexual harassment policies as part of an ongoing look into w…
Carbo said the governor's office believes Edwards was precluded from using those unproven allegations as a condition of denying Anderson a job.
"Johnny came recommended for his leadership, and that's what we went on at the time," Carbo said in a separate recent interview.
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt has called for an investigation that would, in part, examine why Anderson was hired after facing past allegations.
"If the governor really has a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment, why would he put the women there at risk by hiring someone with past allegations?" she said in a recent interview. "Why weren't these previous allegations considered in offering Mr. Anderson a job?"
Hewitt, a Slidell Republican who has been eyed as a potential challenger against Edwards in the 2019 governor's race, asked the legislative auditor to look into the issue. A separate review of sexual harassment policies across state government is also underway, with a public hearing expected on Friday.
Anderson has repeatedly denied harassment allegations lodged against him, said his resignation is not an admission of wrongdoing and vowed that he would clear his name.
"When malicious people get involved and try to scandalize your name and any time you get to certain levels, some people decide that that's what they want to do (and) how they best will take you down, but I'm not going to sit by and let that happen," Anderson told The Advocate.
It's not the first time that Anderson has faced sexual harassment allegations. And not the first time that it's happened while he has been serving as a top adviser to a governor of Louisiana.
At least half a dozen female Southern University employees complained in 2006 that Anderson had sexually harassed them while he was the chairman of the Southern Board of Supervisors. He was also then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco's assistant chief of staff at the time.
The allegations became public after then-SU President Ralph Slaughter sought an external investigation into them. Slaughter later went on to file a whistleblower lawsuit against the SU system and the state because he said he was retaliated against after he disclosed that women had accused Anderson of sexual harassment.
During Slaughter's lawsuit, two Southern University employees took the stand on June 20, 2007 and detailed their claims against Anderson. Their testimony is not part of the public court record, but reports from The Advocate's coverage of the case shed light on what they said.
Cynthia Robinson, who was working as an alumni affairs secretary at Southern, testified Anderson once “pulled me close and tried to kiss me on my lips, but I turned my head."
Robinson testified that Anderson, at an out-of-state alumni conference, later told her that she “had not been giving him the attention he deserves.”
At least two reviews are underway to examine whether Louisiana state government needs to improve its sexual harassment policies, as Gov. John …
Linda Carr, a Southern internal auditor, testified that Anderson approached her while he was driving on campus and “asked me if I needed a boyfriend like him.”
Carr rejected his pass, she testified, despite Anderson's persistence. Carr said she later decided not to apply for a promotion because Anderson said he deemed her unqualified.
Anderson has denied wrongdoing in the allegations from 2006.
He says that an internal investigation conducted by Southern University cleared him. An independent investigation, launched by Blanco, ultimately fizzled amid claims that the university did not cooperate with the outside attorney brought in to look into them. That attorney, Mark Falcon, now works for the Division of Administration and is unable to discuss the past allegations because of the conflict with his role in the administration today, according to a division spokesman.
A U.S. district judge at the time wrote there was enough testimony during the court hearing to show sexual harassment occurred, according to Advocate reports from the time. The federal case was ultimately settled.
State 19th Judicial District Court records in Baton Rouge show that at least one of the women, Robinson, had received a settlement agreement with the Southern system regarding her harassment claims. It's unclear whether any others did. Robinson went on to sue the university in 2010 because she claimed that she lost her job in 2009 as retaliation for discussing the allegations against Anderson in court. Her wrongful termination suit was settled and dismissed in August, according to court records. Attempts to reach Robinson have been unsuccessful.