FRANKFORT — Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate said Monday he will rule this week whether the Legislative Research Commission must turn over all sexual harassment complaints involving lawmakers and staffers.
Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who is representing Yolanda Costner in a sexual harassment lawsuit, said the complaints are needed to show "the culture of sexual harassment" in the LRC, which provides support to lawmakers.
Costner is one of three legislative staffers who alleged sexual harassment in 2013 by Democrat John Arnold, a former state lawmaker from Western Kentucky. Arnold has denied the claims but resigned from the House.
Costner was fired last month by state House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, and is asking the court to include Bell as a defendant in the original sexual harassment lawsuit.
Costner claims that Bell unfairly dismissed her after he won the leadership position on Jan. 6 because of her decision to blow the whistle on Arnold. She also claims that Bell's decision was motivated in part "by his desire to have an intimate sexual relationship" with another woman he wants to hire.
Bell said the claims aren't true and that all three staffers who worked for the previous whip, Democrat Tommy Thompson of Owensboro, are no longer in the office. Costner and another employee were dismissed, and the third resigned.
Costner said she wasn't offered another job in the LRC and is unemployed after 25 years of government service.
Bell and other legislative leaders have said that it's not unusual for a legislative leader to hire his or her own staff. He called it "a damn lie" that he was angling to replace Costner with one woman in particular.
Clay said in court Monday that Bell should be included as a defendant in the initial lawsuit because Costner's rights as a whistle-blower were violated.
Lexington attorney Leslie Vose, who is representing the LRC, argued that Bell is not a party to any of the sexual harassment complaints and therefore should not be added to the lawsuit. She told reporters there is no basis to Costner's claims against Bell.
Bell wasn't present at Monday's hearing. Most of the hearing dealt with Clay's request for every sexual harassment complaint that the LRC has received in recent years and a report about the Arnold case that was created for the LRC by Hyden attorney Cheryl Lewis.
Vose said other harassment complaints are not relevant to the Arnold case, and she accused Clay of trying to garner publicity. She said in court that Clay had asked for any complaints against Arnold, former legislative staffer Kent Downey, who pleaded guilty in 1997 to federal prostitution and gambling charges and was sentenced to probation, and former Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.
Williams, now a circuit judge, said Monday that he would encourage the LRC to release any records it has about sexual harassment involving a lawmaker.
Clay also is asking the court to order the LRC to give him what he called "the whole report" produced by Lewis, who specializes in employment law and was hired by the LRC to investigate the sexual harassment complaints against Arnold.
Vose said the information Lewis gathered was privileged advice from an attorney and should not be released.
Clay also told the court that he has declined the LRC's request to have an impartial mediator decide the sexual harassment complaints against Arnold. He said he withdrew from mediation when Bell dismissed Costner.