Politics & Government

Ex-lawmaker said he 'spanked' knee of state Rep. Sannie Overly; she threatened to 'knock me out' in response

John Arnold was charged with sexual harassment by legislative staffers.
John Arnold was charged with sexual harassment by legislative staffers. Associated Press

FRANKFORT — Former state Rep. John Arnold, who was accused of sexually harassing two female legislative staffers, said in a deposition earlier this year that he "spanked the knee" of Rep. Sannie Overly, this fall's Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.

In response, he said, Overly told him "if I ever hit her on the knee again she'd knock me out."

Arnold's deposition was released Wednesday by Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who represented the legislative staffers.

Clay also released the deposition of former Legislative Research Commission director Robert Sherman after Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate denied motions to keep depositions under wraps.

Wingate noted that Overly was never deposed and that the media could contact the parties involved to obtain any deposition transcripts.

In his deposition, Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, said he could not recall ever sexually harassing legislative staffers Cassaundra Cooper or Yolanda Costner. The two had sued Arnold for sexual harassment in October 2013. They settled their complaint this summer for $400,000 from the Kentucky legislature.

Arnold was asked in his deposition last April 13 if he ever had any physical contact with Overly. He said, "I spanked her on the knee."

He said the incident occurred on the House floor and that others probably saw it. He did not mention any possible observers by name.

That was the only time he had physical contact with Overly, Arnold said.

Overly, the House majority caucus chairwoman from Paris, is the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Conway.

Daniel Kemp, a spokesman for the Conway-Overly campaign, said the campaign had no comment on Arnold's deposition.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin has claimed that Overly declined to help the two legislative staffers when they sought her assistance.

Clay, their attorney, said Wednesday that he is "not aware of any inappropriate behavior whatsoever on the part of Sannie Overly in this entire sexual harassment scandal."

In their lawsuit, Costner and Cooper said Arnold sexually harassed them at the Capitol. Arnold denied wrongdoing but resigned. His lawyer later said Arnold might have been suffering from dementia and uncontrollable behavior problems while he served in the General Assembly.

The Legislative Ethics Commission last year found Arnold guilty on three counts of inappropriate conduct related to the women's complaints, issuing a $1,000 fine and a public reprimand for every count. Arnold appealed that finding to Franklin Circuit Court.

In another lawsuit, LRC employee Nicole Cusic alleged she was moved to an inferior job after she complained that Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, had sexually harassed female legislative staffers.

She also said the LRC was a hostile workplace for women.

Coursey denied the claim. He still sits in the House. Sherman resigned as LRC director in late 2013.

In his April 8, 2015, deposition by Clay, Sherman said he had heard rumors of sexual relationships between legislators and LRC staff but he did not identify anyone.

"I am aware of rumors of sexual relationships, not a lot of them, but at times, over years," said Sherman. "But in terms of am I aware of them existing, I don't know."

Sherman defended his handling of the sexual harassment complaints by the staffers but his deposition raised questions about LRC policies.

He said there were no written job descriptions for LRC employees and no rigorous standard of how compensatory time was awarded to employees.

Some staffers said in a recent audit of the LRC that comp time was based on favoritism and subjective judgments.

Sherman said staffers in the front office got an average of 125 comp hours a year. He acknowledged that he took about that amount of comp time.

Sherman could not be immediately reached Wednesday for comment.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo has said Arnold and Sherman made separate payments to settle the sexual harassment and hostile workplace lawsuits. The amounts of their payments have not been disclosed.