Fallout from sexual harassment allegations continues in Kentucky House

jbrammer@herald-leader.comAugust 26, 2013 

— The fallout from a sexual harassment scandal in the state House continued Monday as one Democratic lawmaker called for the resignation of another and House Speaker Greg Stumbo released emails about the complaints that date to May.

State Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, who informed many of his House colleagues about the harassment complaints against Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, in a speech last week on the House floor, said Monday that Arnold should resign from the legislature.

"I really think that's the best way to go to prevent more stress for these women in a thorough investigation of their complaints by the ethics commission," Riner said during a telephone interview.

He said details that would come out during an investigation by the Legislative Ethics Commission have "the potential to further erode the public's confidence in the state legislature." He quickly added that he was not aware of any other state legislator involved in sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, Stumbo released email messages showing that his general counsel suggested May 24 that Legislative Research Commission director Robert Sherman hire a counselor to mediate the sexual harassment complaints made by LRC staffers.

Stumbo's office said it released the email messages "in light of continuing misunderstanding of the steps taken by House Speaker Greg Stumbo to ensure effective protection of LRC staff."

In a statement released Monday, Stumbo said he thought until earlier this month that the mediation process had been successful.

"It is the speaker's understanding that this process was successful, and in fact that the parties were satisfied with the efforts of the counselor as recently as the week before the special session" that began Aug. 19, he said.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, directed Sherman last week to send letters to the 400 legislative staff members with information about the legislature's policies on harassment. That move came after three female legislative workers filed complaints with the ethics commission, alleging that harassment by Arnold began as early as 2010 and that LRC leaders failed to properly investigate the complaints.

Arnold has not commented publicly on the charges.

Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner filed harassment complaints Aug. 16. Gloria Morgan filed a complaint Thursday. All three have agreed to be identified publicly.

The allegations rocked the state legislature and raised questions about how the women's initial complaints were handled.

Stumbo has called for an independent investigation into the LRC's handling of the complaints, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, has asked Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, to hold a meeting of House and Senate leaders to review the LRC's handling of the complaints.

Sherman said Friday he welcomed any review of how he and his staff handled the complaints. Sherman said Monday that no meeting had been scheduled yet.

The email messages released Monday by Stumbo's office show that his general counsel, Pierce Whites, told Sherman on May 24 that he had received "a follow-up call" from John Schaaf, the ethics commission's general counsel.

Whites said Schaaf was "concerned about a perceived failure to promptly address the concerns raised by two legislative staff persons."

Schaaf was not available for comment Monday about the email.

In the email, Whites told Sherman that Stumbo wanted the mediator issue "immediately addressed" and suggested that Sherman hire a lawyer who would "be free to mediate and counsel resolution to any outstanding issues by directly working with the parties concerned."

Sherman, in a May 28 email, told his staff to place Whites' email in a file. On that same day, Whites sent another email to Sherman and several LRC staffers, seeking contact information about the mediator and asking to whom the speaker's office should direct any inquiries about the matter.

Sherman replied immediately to Whites' email, and Whites thanked him.

On May 31, Whites sent an email asking Sherman and several LRC staffers about the status of the mediator.

Sherman replied that the LRC had scheduled an appointment with attorney Cheryl Lewis, and "we're hoping she's the one."

Lewis, a Hyden lawyer who specializes in employment law, is listed on the LRC website as a part-time employee hired for $125 an hour with no benefits. She did not return a phone call to her office Monday seeking comment.

Sherman said he could not comment on the emails and statements from Stumbo's office because he did not yet know "the ground rules" of whether legislative leaders or another entity would investigate the handling of the complaints.

Sherman also is refusing to release any documents about the LRC's investigation of Arnold and the complaints to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service