Panel Moving Slowly In Sexual Harassment Probe

Dec 5, 2013

A special committee investigating claims of sexual harassment by a former lawmaker has ended a closed-door meeting without issuing any findings.

The panel convened Thursday morning in Frankfort for its first meeting since October.

State Rep. Jeffery Donohue, the Fairdale Democrat chairing the panel, said his intent is to move "swiftly" to complete the investigation before lawmakers convene a legislative session early next month.

"There has been a little lull in what we're trying to do, and I'll take responsibility for that," Donohue told reporters after a closed-door meeting Thursday. "It's my responsibility to make sure we move forward."

Thursday's meeting was the committee's first since October. Donohue said the meeting was held in closed session so that the members could have "a frank conversation" about "where we're at, where we're trying to go, and how we're going to move forward."

The committee has about four weeks to investigate accusations that former Democratic Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis sexually harassed legislative staffers.

Donohue's committee could ultimately recommend Arnold be reprimanded or fined. Had Arnold not resigned shortly after the allegations were made public, the panel could have recommended his ouster.

Arnold resigned from the Legislature in September after the allegations were made public. Legislative staffers Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper say Arnold had touched them inappropriately and made vulgar comments. A third woman also has filed a complaint.

Arnold said in his letter of resignation that he doesn't believe he is guilty of sexual harassment. But he said he has been "destroyed politically" and could no longer be an effective voice for his constituents. A retired chiropractor, he had served in the House since 1995.

Costner and Cooper, represented by Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, filed a lawsuit against the Legislative Research Commission and others, including House Speaker Greg Stumbo, alleging their supervisors didn't protect them from Arnold even after they complained. Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate dismissed Stumbo as a defendant in the case on Thursday.

Clay, along with a group of reporters, waited in the hallway for the meeting to conclude.

"It's always troubling to me that things are done behind closed doors," Clay said. "This is a matter that has great public interest and it should be transparent, particularly considering the allegations and the number of complaints against Rep. Arnold."