Judge rules against Durham, clears release of investigation report

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville chancellor ruled Tuesday that it would not be in the public interest to block the release of an investigative report on allegations of sexual harassment by state Rep. Jeremy Durham.

Chancellor Russell Perkins heard arguments earlier in the day after Durham asked for an emergency ruling to block the report, arguing it would cause him irreparable damage. The report is expected to be released on Wednesday at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Select Committee appointed to look into Durham’s conduct.

In his ruling, Perkins said the Franklin Republican raised some legitimate questions about the way the investigation was conducted, but those concerns were insufficient to support a ruling blocking the report’s release or further work by the committee.

Durham’s attorney Bill Harbison had argued that the appointment of the attorney general’s office to conduct the investigation for the committee constituted an invasion of the legislative branch of government by the judicial branch. He said it sets a dangerous precedent for abuse of government power.

The timing of the report’s release, just two days before the start of early voting for upcoming primaries, shows that it is “transparently being done for political ends,” Harbison argued.

Several GOP leaders have urged Durham to resign his post, including House Speaker Beth Harwell, who appointed the ad hoc committee and requested the help of the attorney general’s office.

Steve Hart, special counsel for the Office of the Attorney General, said the office routinely acts as legal counsel for the legislature. On a previous occasion, the office investigated former Sen. John Ford at the request of the Senate Ethics Committee, Hart said.

He also argued that the House has a duty to protect its employees from harassment. After a preliminary report issued in April found Durham could pose a risk to “unsuspecting women” at the Capitol complex, Harwell moved Durham to another office building and limited his access to committee rooms and the House chambers.

“Although the Court recognizes that Rep. Durham may suffer harm,” Perkins wrote, “the Court concludes that it is in the public interest for the Attorney General and the Ad Hoc Committee to finish their work and for the results of their work to be made available to the public.”