Panel May Broaden Net In Sexual Harassment Probe

Oct 10, 2013

A select committee investigating sexual harassment complaints against a former Ky. lawmaker will consider inviting all LRC staff to come forward.

Members of the panel have agreed to vote on that proposal from state Rep. Robert Benvenuti III, R-Lexington, in a meeting next Wednesday.

Even if the letters are sent, Chairman Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, said the scope of the committee's work will remain focused only on former Rep. John Arnold, who resigned last month after two legislative aides accused him of sexual harassment. Donohue said the committee is charged only with looking into Arnold's alleged actions and no one else's.

Donohue's committee could recommend that Arnold be reprimanded or fined. Had Arnold not resigned, the panel could have recommended that he be expelled from the Legislature.

Legislative aides Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper, represented by Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, filed a lawsuit against the Legislative Research Commission last week alleging their supervisors didn't protect them from Arnold's sexual harassment even after they reported it. Costner and Cooper wrote in a complaint to the Legislative Ethics Commission that Arnold had touched them inappropriately and had made vulgar comments.

Arnold said in his letter of resignation that he doesn't believe he's guilty of sexual harassment. But he said he resigned because he has been "destroyed politically" and could no longer be an effective voice for his constituents.

Benvenuti also recommended Wednesday that the committee hire an investigator to help.

"I think we owe it to the citizens of the commonwealth to make sure this matter is thoroughly and properly investigated outside of what might be going on in a civil lawsuit so that there is at least some assurance that this conduct won't be repeated in the future," Benvenuti said.

Donohue said he expects the select committee to hire an outside attorney next week to serve as legal adviser as the probe moves ahead.

Meanwhile, a separate legislative panel, the Program Review and Investigations Committee, has opted to stand clear of the sexual harassment case for now.

A meeting of that panel set for Thursday morning was canceled Wednesday. State Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Latonia Republican who co-chairs the committee, said now is an inappropriate time discuss sexual harassment policy because of the pending lawsuit.

"The committee will re-visit this discussion at a later date," McDaniel said. "In the meantime, we will closely monitor the issue."