Sexual harassment complaints spark disagreement among legislative leaders

jbrammer@herald-leader.comAugust 28, 2013 

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Wednesday that it's too soon for a meeting of legislative leaders to review how sexual harassment complaints against a Western Kentucky lawmaker were handled, a comment that sparked outrage from other leading lawmakers.

Meanwhile, an attorney representing two state workers alleging harassment by state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, said Wednesday that he has "specific information about other inappropriate relationships, but I am not prepared to divulge that information at this point."

Louisville attorney Thomas Clay said he would provide more details about an alleged culture of harassment at the Capitol in planned litigation, "if that's the route we decide to pursue."

"The elected representatives who have been speaking on behalf of the legislature are well aware of what's going on," Clay said. "So to the extent that they are trying to feign ignorance about these complaints and about this culture, it is disingenuous."

Clay said his clients, Legislative Research Commission employees Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper, might file lawsuits in Franklin Circuit Court in a week to 10 days.

"A culture is much more widespread than just one representative and two LRC staff members," Clay said. "I think this culture encompasses other LRC staff members as well as elected representatives."

Costner, Cooper and legislative aide Gloria Morgan filed complaints against Arnold earlier this month with the Legislative Ethics Commission. Morgan also filed a complaint with the LRC, accusing the agency that provides support to lawmakers of failing to investigate her allegations against Arnold.

Arnold, 69, has not publicly commented on the allegations.

Cheryl Lewis, a Hyden attorney who specializes in employment law, is now on the LRC payroll at $125 an hour to investigate the complaints. Her work is continuing, said LRC director Robert Sherman.

Stumbo said last Friday that he agreed with House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover that a meeting of all 16 House and Senate leaders was needed to get more information from LRC staffers about how the complaints were handled.

But Stumbo spokesman Brian Wilkerson said Wednesday that Stumbo thinks such a meeting would be premature.

"The speaker's office believes that we need to allow the process to work without interference," Wilkerson said in an email message.

He said Sherman has been instructed to provide "a formal report upon the conclusion of the investigation."

"Legislative involvement and discussion should wait until all the facts have been determined and all parties involved have been made aware of the findings," Wilkerson wrote. "At that point, it will be appropriate to decide what further review is warranted."

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, disagreed with Stumbo's assessment Wednesday evening, saying, "The Senate has been kept in the dark."

Stivers said he didn't know until last week about the LRC's investigation of the harassment complaints or that a mediator had been hired this summer to help resolve the complaints.

"The legislative body as a whole could be financially and fiscally responsible in the handling of the complaints, and some leaders were not informed about such handling," Stivers said. "That's why some of us feel the LRC should go into executive session next week and try to find out what's going on."

Hoover said he regrets that Stumbo "has changed his mind in this matter."

"For Speaker Stumbo to now reverse course and refuse to permit the LRC to meet just further undermines the entire situation and begs the question: What is the Speaker and Democrat leaders trying to hide?" Hoover said in a statement.

Earlier Wednesday, Stivers said that he, Hoover, and Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, agree on the need for legislative leaders to go into executive session during a regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 4 to discuss the handling of the complaints.

Palmer said legislative leaders need to discuss the matter.

"I want to understand what the LRC has done," he said. "That's a reflection on all legislative leaders."

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

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