Politics & Government

Ethics panel finds probable cause in sexual harassment case against lawmaker

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, D-Sturgis, will face possible reprimands and fines when the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission hears three sexual harassment complaints against him at a Dec. 12 hearing.

The commission on Tuesday voted to find probable cause to believe the complaints filed in August against Arnold by three women who work for the Legislative Research Commission.

"Hopefully, justice will be served," said one of the women, Yolanda Costner, who attended the public portions of Tuesday's meeting.

Arnold, 69, has denied the allegations made in the complaints and a related lawsuit, but he resigned his seat in the state House last month. He did not attend Tuesday's meeting. His attorney, Steve Downey, spoke with the commission as it met behind closed doors, declining to comment later to reporters.

Although Arnold no longer holds office, the commission still has jurisdiction because the acts in question allegedly occurred while he was a state representative and bound by the legislative ethics code, commission chairman George Troutman said. Arnold could be penalized with private or public reprimands and fines of up to $2,000 per count, Troutman said.

The complaints accuse Arnold of sexual harassment and assault, stalking, unwanted touching and verbally abusing legislative aides Costner, Cassaundra Cooper, and Gloria Morgan.

Technically, the commission is considering whether he violated an ethics law that prohibits legislators from using their official positions to unfairly secure advantages for themselves. Violation of that law is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

The commission would have to decide whether to forward the case to prosecutors if it finds Arnold guilty, said Anthony Wilhoit, the commission's executive director.

On Monday, Gov. Steve Beshear set a Dec. 10 special election for voters in Arnold's former Western Kentucky House district to choose his replacement.

Apart from the ethics commission, a panel of legislators, appointed by Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo and led by Democratic Rep. Jeff Donohue, is conducting its own investigation into Arnold's conduct.

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