Ethics panel finds former state Rep. John Arnold guilty in sexual harassment case

jbrammer@herald-leader.comMay 7, 2014 

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission found former state Rep. John Arnold guilty Wednesday of three ethics charges in a case brought by three female legislative staffers who said he had inappropriately touched them.

On a vote of 5-1, the commission issued a $1,000 fine and a public reprimand on each charge against Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis.

His attorney, Steven Downey of Bowling Green, said Arnold would appeal the commission's decision to Franklin Circuit Court.

Downey objected to the commission's second hearing on the case. In April, the nine-member commission was one vote shy of votes to punish Arnold for allegedly abusing his position as a public official. The vote then was 4-1. Commissioner Elmer George of Lebanon voted no, saying he did not think the commission had the authority to punish a former member of the General Assembly.

George cast the only no vote again at Wednesday's hearing. The yes votes were cast by chairman George Troutman of Louisville, Paul D. Gudgel of Lexington, Norma Scott of Madisonville, Bob Fulkerson of Louisville and Deborah Jo Durr of Richwood.

Gudgel, Scott and Durr missed the April meeting.

Member Pat Freibert of Lexington, who voted yes in April, left shortly before the Wednesday vote was taken. Troutman said she had to pick up her grandson from school. Troutman announced at the beginning of Wednesday's hearing that member Vernie McGaha of Russell Springs has resigned.

McGaha said this week that he submitted his resignation because of the panel's handling of the Arnold case. Troutman said McGaha decided it was best to leave immediately since he has endorsed a state Senate candidate in his home area. Another position on the commission has been vacant for two years.

The women who brought the charges against Arnold said they were pleased with Wednesday's vote.

Arnold, 69, has denied wrongdoing. He resigned from the legislature last September. His attorney said Arnold is suffering from dementia.

Two of the women, Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner, said the commission's decision in April smacked of politics and that they did not know five commission votes were needed to find Arnold guilty of ethics violations.

After Wednesday's vote to punish Arnold, Costner said, "Give thanks to God that things worked out according to His will. The biggest thing we can say right now is that our prayers have been answered.

"We wanted to make sure that we were not alleging these things happened to us, they actually happened to us, and we wanted the state to acknowledge that John Arnold assaulted us and humiliated us."

Told that Arnold was being fined $3,000, Cooper said, "It was never about the money. It was just for him to be held accountable for what he did to us."

Cooper and Costner have filed a lawsuit against Arnold in Franklin Circuit Court.

The other woman, Gloria Morgan, left Wednesday's ethics hearing without talking to reporters.

At Wednesday's hearing, Costner, who works in the House Democratic whip's office, testified that Arnold pulled at her panties when she was walking to the Capitol Annex in March 2010. She described him as "perverted" and "obnoxious."

Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, testified that he saw Arnold grab Costner and told him to never do it again. He said Arnold only laughed.

Costner said she told several people about Arnold's unsolicited advances but that his behavior continued.

She also said that Arnold called her a name a few years later and touched and grabbed her frequently.

Arnold's attorney noted that she had not testified in April that Arnold often touched her. She said she was not asked about that at that hearing.

Cooper, who works for House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Flatwoods, said Arnold slapped her on her buttocks on Feb. 14, 2013, when she was bending over to put bottled water in a refrigerator in a legislative office.

She said she thought, "Oh, my God, what just happened." She added that she also reported Arnold's actions to LRC officials, but they did not stop.

LRC personnel director Roy Collins testified that LRC officials had no authority under state law to discipline Arnold.

Morgan, a legislative secretary, said Arnold in 2009 approached her in the hallway at the annex, rubbed his hand up and down her back and asked if she wanted "to come out and play tonight."

"I told him no. I took it as an intimate gesture from him," she said.

Also entered as evidence in the hearing were depositions from Garland Certain, a Morganfield bank president who is a friend of Arnold, and Dr. Vinod Soni, Arnold's personal physician in Sturgis.

The first two hours of the hearing involved whether the commission should reopen the case after the April hearing.

Downey said the media and public outcry when Arnold was not found guilty was the motivation for the rehearing.

But chairman Troutman said that the commission did not close the case after the April hearing and that the complaints against Arnold must be resolved.

At one point, the commission voted to go into closed session to decide how to proceed.

Eleven reporters from various media outlets protested the closing of the hearing, claiming the commission could go into executive session to deliberate on Arnold's guilt or innocence but not to discuss procedure.

The commission's work was closed to the public for 18 minutes.

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

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