Review Done Of Harassment Claim Against Ky. Lawmaker

Sep 4, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A review of sexual harassment complaints against a western Kentucky lawmaker has taken some six months and now is nearly finished, the head of a state commission told legislators on Wednesday.

Representative John Arnold (D) of Sturgis
Representative John Arnold (D) of Sturgis
Credit Louisville Courier Journal

Legislative Research Commission Director Bobby Sherman briefed legislative leaders on the complaints that have overshadowed all else in Frankfort over the past three weeks. He urged lawmakers to allow him to talk to them behind closed doors, which they ultimately did, citing potential legal liability.

"We want you to know everything you want to know," Sherman said. "I'm just saying, in open session, it's a slippery slope from one question to another and it's dangerous."

Sherman told lawmakers he received two complaints against Democratic state Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis on Feb. 19, and that the review lasted until Aug. 27. He declined to publicly discuss the review's outcome of the complaints filed by legislative staffers Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper. They complained that Arnold had touched them inappropriately and made vulgar comments.

Arnold hasn't responded to the allegations since they were made public last month, and he didn't return a phone call to his legislative office again on Wednesday.

Both Costner and Cooper attended the hearing with their attorney, Thomas Clay of Louisville. The women declined to comment, but Clay said the Legislative Research Commission had "botched" the review and that his clients still haven't been notified about the results.

"To the extent that they're trying to maintain the confidentiality of anything here, it's all out there in the media anyway," Clay said. "So what is there to remain confidential? Why don't they be forthcoming with the results of this investigation? What's there to hide?"

Legislative leaders met for nearly six hours, four behind closed doors. House Democrats complained that closing the meeting to the public was illegal and they refused to participate in it.

"I believe the public has a right to know these things," Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo protested when House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover made a motion for the closed session.

Stumbo appointed five lawmakers last week to a special committee that will do a separate investigation into the sexual harassment complaints. That committee could recommend Arnold's censure or expulsion from the Legislature.

Legislative leaders have already suspended Arnold as chairman of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development & Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.