BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) — Days before Louisiana voters pick a candidate for the state’s highest elected seat, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office faces a lawsuit over how it has handled a sexual harassment case against a former top aide.
Truth in Politics, a conservative-leaning political group, is sponsoring the suit. Its members claim they have not received emails, texts or any other public records regarding former deputy chief of staff Johnny Anderson and former staffer Juanita Washington.
“Not one single document has been turned over,” Truth in Politics spokesperson Emily Turner said. “There is only one word for this — stonewalling. The public has a right to public records.”
Turner said the group first requested the public files on Aug. 8. The governor’s office suggested it would provide the documents by Sept. 27, according to the lawsuit. Truth in Politics argues the office has since pushed its date multiple times — first to Oct. 4, then to Oct. 11.
“No doubt, they would break that promise if given the chance,” Turner said.
Anderson resigned in November 2017, shortly after Washington issued her sexual harassment complaint. The state spent more than $100,000 in its settlement with her. (Anderson has denied the claims against him.)
Speaking Tuesday outside a Baton Rouge district courthouse, Washington blasted Edwards’ decision to hire Anderson — who faced similar harassment claims while serving on the Southern University Board of Supervisors roughly a decade ago.
“My story is one that needs to be told completely and honestly,” Washington said. “Release the evidence, and just say ‘I’m sorry.'”
Edwards’ office maintains that administrators asked Anderson to resign less than a day after Washington issued her complaint. (Anderson has denied all harassment allegations against him.)
Campaign aides for Edwards, a Democrat seeking reelection, addressed the case in a separate news conference Tuesday afternoon. Tina Vanichchagorn, an executive counsel for the governor, defended the office’s handling of public records and countered Washington’s claim that she wasn’t allowed to keep her job.
“Ms. Washington was given the opportunity to withdraw her resignation and to continue her employment with our office.” Vanichchagorn said. “She declined to do that.”
Washington responded to Vanichchagorn’s remarks in a written statement moments later. That’s a lie,” Washington said. “Nobody from the Office of the Governor ever contacted me. They continue to be dishonest, and this was just one more opportunity to discredit me and victim-shame.”
Critics of the lawsuit question its timing and Truth in Politics’ involvement. Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 12, and the group’s founder, Lane Grigsby, has aligned with Republican gubernatorial challenger Eddie Rispone.
“I’m disheartened that they would take a victim and [the governor’s] opponents would exploit her for a political campaign,” state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) said Tuesday.
Washington has denied allegations of trying to influence the vote.
“My story needed to be told,” Washington said. “I’m just here to tell the truth.”
Louisiana’s open primary for governor includes Edwards, Rispone, Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and three other contenders. If none win more than half of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off Nov. 16.