AG: Durham lawsuit contrary to public interest

Responding Monday to a lawsuit brought by state Rep. Jeremy Durham, Attorney General Herbert Slatery argues that blocking release of a report on an investigation into allegations that the lawmaker engaged in sexual harassment would be contrary to the public interest, reports The Tennessean.

“It cannot be in the public interest to prevent that investigation,” Slatery writes.

Representatives for Durham and Slatery are set to discuss their motions during a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Davidson County Chancery Court.

The filing reveals some details about the Slatery investigation — including the fact that the attorney general couldn’t get details from Durham’s personal phone and that Durham “refused” to be interviewed. Durham and his attorney, Bill Harbison, would only agree to let a third party, hired by his attorney, use search terms provided by the attorney general to look through Durham’s phone records.

The attorney general determined those stipulations would reveal “privileged and confidential information” that could compromise the investigation and the identity of witnesses, and refused to agree to Durham’s terms. Since April, Durham failed to consider any alternative review, “thus, the office was never able to obtain any data from his personal cell phone,” Slatery writes.

The attorney general also notes investigators told Durham from the onset of the investigation that they wanted to interview him. Slatery says Durham refused that request. Durham also refused to provide names for any witnesses the attorney general could interview, although Slatery asked for any suggested people to interview who Durham thought would be pertinent.

…In the lawsuit, Durham alleges the investigation is illegal, arguing Slatery and House Speaker Beth Harwell don’t have the authority to investigate him because only the legislature can police itself, and that he’s been denied “due process” because the attorney general hasn’t outlined the specific allegations against him. He also argues that the investigation should have come to a close at the end of the legislative session, or that there’s no rush to release the investigative report because the next legislative session isn’t set to start until January.

…All of Durham’s arguments asking for an injunction, legal or otherwise, are wrong, Slatery writes in a 30-page filing, including another 90 pages of supporting documents.

But Slatery does agree with an assertion in Durham’s filing that the case is about abuse of power.

“And in a sense, it is: it is a case in which (Durham) wants only to prevent the House from investigating allegations about his use and abuse of his position of power as a member of the House,” Slatery writes, referencing one of Durham’s arguments in the initial filing.