FRANKFORT — The state will make a cash payment to help settle lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and other misconduct by lawmakers, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said Tuesday.
Stivers, R-Manchester, declined to say how much money was involved but pledged that details of the settlement would be made public eventually.
Leslie Vose, attorney for the Legislative Research Commission, and Thomas Clay, attorney for three women who made the claims, confirmed the settlement Tuesday morning after a daylong mediation session Monday.
They also declined to provide details of the settlement, which legislative leaders must approve before it is finalized.
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"I can say the mediation was successful to all parties involved," Vose said.
Clay said that the parties "reached a mutually satisfactory resolution" Monday night and that the mediation, held in the Lexington law office of Steve Barker, resolved two lawsuits that were filed in October 2013.
One involved sexual harassment claims by legislative staffers Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper against former then-Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis. Arnold, who resigned in the wake of the accusations, has denied any wrongdoing.
The two women also named the Legislative Research Commission as a defendant, and this year added Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, to the lawsuit after Bell fired Costner from her job in the House majority whip's office soon after he was elected to the post.
The second lawsuit involved allegations by legislative staffer Nicole Cusic that she was moved to an inferior job after she complained that Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, had sexually harassed female legislative staffers.
Cusic also listed the LRC and former LRC director Bobby Sherman as defendants in her case. Coursey denied the charge against him and countersued Cusic, claiming defamation.
The settlement makes unnecessary any more depositions of public officials in the cases.
Clay, the women's attorney, wanted to depose state Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat who chairs the House majority caucus and is running for lieutenant governor, this year to ask her what she knew about sexual harassment in the legislature.
Overly asked Franklin Circuit Court to seal her deposition before the mediation began.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, did not comment Tuesday on the settlement, but Stivers held a telephone news conference Tuesday afternoon to answer questions.
He said "a dollar figure has been proposed" to pay the three women, and "there would be a payment."
He said the amount eventually would be made public because state law requires that for any payment from the legislative budget.
Asked whether legislative leaders had given Vose the authority to offer a cash payment, Stivers said Vose was given "a general framework to go forward."
Asked why taxpayers should have to pay to settle claims of misconduct by lawmakers, Stivers said the answer would be clearer when the settlement was made public.
Jim Waters, president of the libertarian-leaning Bluegrass Institute think tank, said elected officials should release details of the settlement immediately.
"Why not disclose the amount of the settlement right now?" he asked. "It's likely not to change. Taxpayers need to know now. This is like when taxpayers are not immediately told by their officials how much it's going to cost to land a company in the state."
Stivers said he didn't know when legislative leaders would meet to review the settlement. He said that portion of the meeting was expected to be closed to the public because litigation would be discussed.
Stivers also said he didn't know whether Costner will get her job back at the LRC.