Louisiana secretary of state diverted $90K to pay settlement

Louisiana secretary of state diverted $90K to pay settlement

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana secretary of state’s office diverted more than $90,000 from computer system improvements to pay its share of a sexual misconduct settlement involving the agency’s former leader, Tom Schedler.

Dollars earmarked to upgrade software for business registrations, the state archives, the agency help desk and other systems were stripped. Instead, the money was paid to help end litigation accusing Schedler, a Republican who resigned in May, of sexually harassing a female employee for years.

The financing diversion was described in documents obtained by The Associated Press in response to a public records request.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Schedler’s top aide who moved into the election chief’s job after the resignation, initially wouldn’t talk about the spending, citing a confidentiality clause in the settlement.

When AP obtained the records, Ardoin spokeswoman Brandee Patrick said the money shuffled to pay the harassment settlement didn’t “cut anything to do with cybersecurity,” which Ardoin has described as a priority amid national concerns about voting security and foreign hacking into election systems.

“We deferred maintenance to software on non-critical systems, meaning things that don’t impact the public, for one year,” Patrick said. “All the applications will still run. No services will be impacted, nothing that will affect the security of elections.”

The August deal settling the harassment claims against Schedler involved a $167,500 payment to the woman who accused Schedler of misconduct — and no admission of guilt from Schedler. A judge signed paperwork ending the litigation in October.

Louisiana taxpayers paid $149,075 of the settlement, plus an additional $35,000 on private attorneys to respond to the lawsuit. Schedler personally paid $18,425. The secretary of state’s office covered $90,450 of the settlement’s price tag, while the rest was paid through the Office of Risk Management, Louisiana’s self-insurer.

The sexual harassment lawsuit was filed in February, alleging Schedler harassed the woman for years and punished her when she rebuffed advances. Schedler’s spokeswoman said the pair had a consensual sexual relationship. The woman’s lawyer denied that.

The AP doesn’t normally name alleged victims of sexual harassment.

Ardoin, a Republican, became secretary of state when Schedler resigned and won a special election Saturday to fill the remaining year of Schedler’s term. In addition to administering elections, the secretary of state oversees Louisiana’s archives, registers businesses in the state and manages museums, such as the Old State Capitol.

The documents provided to the AP showed lawmakers questioned whether Ardoin would ask for supplemental funding to pay its share of the settlement costs. But the agency redirected its own self-generated revenue, rather than seek more money from lawmakers.

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