Hearing postponed in ethics case against former state lawmaker accused of sexual harassment

jcheves@herald-leader.comFebruary 24, 2014 

Cassaundra Cooper, left, and Yolanda Costner, with their attorney, Thomas Clay, filed sexual harrassment charges against former state Rep. John Arnold.

PHOTO BY JACK BRAMMER | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

FRANKFORT — An attorney says that former state Rep. John A. Arnold Jr., D-Sturgis, might be suffering from dementia and uncontrollable behavior problems, prompting a delay in a Legislative Ethics Commission proceeding that was scheduled for Tuesday.

Arnold, 69, was accused last year of sexually harassing three legislative aides at the Capitol. He denied the allegations but resigned from the House.

The ethics commission was set to hear testimony and other evidence against Arnold on Tuesday to determine whether he should face penalties, such as reprimands or fines. However, Arnold's attorney, Steven Downey, won an indefinite postponement Monday by arguing that he needed more time to interview the former lawmaker's doctors and study their test results.

In a motion to the ethics commission, Downey said Arnold had suffered over the past three years from worsening cognitive and behavioral problems that can be attributed to "some form of dementia" and that "his intellectual functioning has decreased radically."

Downey said he wanted the ethics proceeding delayed "until such time as a definitive diagnosis can be reached and explained by doctors, and until such time as his mental status can be connected to his conduct during the time of the allegations in the three complaints."

"There has simply not been enough time to discern precisely what John's issues are," Downey wrote.

Arnold's wife, Sandy, can attest that during the past three years, she has worried about her husband's tremors, exhaustion, personality changes and failing memory, Downey wrote.

Arnold retired as a chiropractor in 2011, in part because he lacked the stamina to continue, Downey wrote. He suffered a series of mini-strokes in 2011 and 2012 around the time of surgeries on his carotid artery and heart, and his wife had to take him home before the 2012 legislative session concluded, Downey wrote.

In November 2012, while Arnold allegedly suffered from a noticeable decline in his physical and mental health, he was elected to a 10th two-year term in the House. Democratic leaders named Arnold chairman of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance and Public Protection. House Speaker Greg Stumbo suspended Arnold from that post in August after the sexual harassment allegations surfaced.

On Monday, Stumbo said some House members witnessed Arnold's deterioration at the Capitol.

"Anyone who observed him would notice that he was not well," he said. "We watched him very closely and monitored what he did."

Arnold's budget committee "didn't have a lot of discretionary money in it," Stumbo said.

Apart from the ethics proceeding, two of the legislative aides alleging sexual harassment, Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner, are suing Arnold and the Legislative Research Commission in Franklin Circuit Court.

Last month in that case, Downey filed a demand for the women to produce the names and addresses of all doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counselors they have seen since the mid-1980s.

The women are frustrated that in the months since they've come forward to file complaints about Arnold's behavior, nothing has been done to compensate them or punish the former lawmaker, said their attorney, Thomas Clay.

Arnold and his attorney "have had more than ample opportunity to conduct whatever medical testing he thought was necessary to prepare a defense," Clay said. "I wouldn't go so far as to say this is contrived. But it definitely doesn't pass the stink test."

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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