Bel Edwards: Aide Resigned Swiftly After Harassment Claim

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's governor said Wednesday that he hired a man accused of sexual harassment 11 years ago as a top aide because an investigation at the time didn't prove those allegations were true.

Johnny Anderson resigned as Gov. John Bel Edwards' deputy chief of staff in November after new claims of sexual harassment were lodged against him. Similar accusations were made against Anderson in 2006 when he worked for then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco and was chairman of the Southern University System Board of Supervisors.

Edwards said he felt comfortable hiring Anderson in 2016 since the previous allegations were investigated "without any finding" that Anderson had committed the conduct that was alleged.

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"He denied (the allegations), and in my years of knowing Johnny, which go back to 2011, I never saw or heard anything, directly or indirectly, that suggested to me that there would be any problem of this type," the Democratic governor said at a news conference.

But he added: "Having said that, obviously we take these allegations very seriously. We take the whole subject matter of sexual harassment very seriously, and as a result, within 15 hours of us learning that there were allegations, Mr. Anderson was called in, the situation was explained to him and he resigned on the spot."

Anderson denies wrongdoing. He said he resigned to avoid becoming a "distraction" for the governor, not because of guilt.

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No specific claim about Anderson's conduct in the governor's office has been released publicly. Edwards said an investigation is ongoing, and he's "not at liberty to go into that matter further." The Edwards administration hired a contract attorney, anticipating a lawsuit.

Edwards has created a seven-member study group to review Louisiana's policies for handling sexual misconduct claims, with recommendations due by March 1.

Louisiana's legislative auditor is conducting a similar review of state agency policies for responding to sexual harassment claims. That performance audit was requested by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Republican from the New Orleans suburb of Slidell, who questioned how Anderson was hired after the 2006 accusations from several Southern University employees.

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Blanco ordered an investigation at the time, but the lawyer who led the review said the university system didn't cooperate, making it difficult to determine if the allegations had merit, according to media reports.

-By Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

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