FRANKFORT — Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate denied a request Tuesday from House Majority Whip Johnny Bell to be dismissed as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by two female legislative staffers who accused another lawmaker of sexual harassment.
The order means "that the lawsuit against Mr. Bell will proceed and hopefully we can get a resolution in this soon," said Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who is representing the women.
Bell's attorney, Charles E. English of Bowling Green, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Bell, a Glasgow attorney, has been in the state House since 2007 and was elected in January to the leadership position.
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After his Democratic colleagues elected him House majority whip, Bell fired staffer Yolanda Costner, who, along with Cassaundra Cooper, had filed a sexual harassment complaint in 2013 against John Arnold.
Arnold was a Democratic representative from Sturgis. He denied the claims but resigned from the House.
In an amended complaint, Costner claimed that Bell unfairly dismissed her after he won the leadership because of her decision to blow the whistle on Arnold.
She also claimed 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 strongly denied the claims, calling them "a damn lie," and noted that all three staffers who worked for the previous whip, Democrat Tommy Thompson of Owensboro, were no longer in the office.
Costner and another employee were dismissed, and the third resigned.
Bell and other legislative leaders have said that it's not unusual for a legislative leader to hire his or her own staff.
Clay, Costner's attorney, argued in a February hearing that Bell should be included as a defendant in the lawsuit because Costner's rights as a whistleblower were violated.
Leslie Vose, an attorney for the Legislative Research Commission, argued that Bell is not a party to any of the sexual harassment complaints and should not be added to the lawsuit.
Judge Wingate said Tuesday that it is "premature at this time to dismiss the claims against Bell."