Politics & Government

10 Kentucky lawmakers subpoenaed to testify in ethics case

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

FRANKFORT — Ten lawmakers have been subpoenaed to appear Tuesday at a legislative ethics hearing about former Rep. John Arnold, who is accused of sexually harassing three legislative aides at the Capitol.

However, it's unclear how many lawmakers will agree to testify.

On Friday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, filed a motion to quash the subpoena in Franklin Circuit Court because the legislature is meeting until April 15, and the Kentucky Constitution protects lawmakers from arrest or detention while they're in session so they can conduct business. But Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he and two other Republican senators will honor their subpoenas.

Meanwhile, Stumbo and other Democratic House leaders plan to delay the legislative schedule Tuesday so they can attend a fundraising lunch in Louisville for Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes featuring former President Bill Clinton, "the greatest president of our times," Stumbo said Friday.

Arnold, D-Sturgis, denied the harassment allegations made in August but later resigned from the House. The Legislative Ethics Commission could reprimand or fine him if it finds that he violated a law prohibiting lawmakers from unfairly securing advantages for themselves.

Louisville attorney Thomas Clay represents two of the legislative aides, Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner, in a pending Franklin Circuit Court lawsuit against Arnold. Both women expect to testify at the ethics hearing, Clay said.

"I know that from the perspective of Cassaundra and Yolanda, they want this resolved. They feel there has been an inordinate amount of delay in getting anything done regarding Mr. Arnold's behavior," Clay said. "So I would hope that Mr. Stumbo could find it in his time to make an appearance."

The Legislative Ethics Commission said it will require Arnold's attorney, Steven Downey of Bowling Green, on Monday to explain his reasons for subpoenaing each lawmaker. George Troutman, the commission's chairman, can quash a subpoena if he concludes that a witness won't bring relevant evidence to the hearing, said John Schaaf, the commission's legal counsel.

Downey "hasn't really said at this point what any of these folks will be testifying for," Schaaf said Friday.

Downey did not return a call Friday seeking comment.

Stumbo's motion to quash the subpoena requested a hearing in Franklin Circuit Court that could be held as early as Monday.

Aside from Stumbo and Stivers, subpoenas were issued by the Franklin County sheriff to House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook; Rep. John Short, D-Mallie; Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris; Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro; Rep. W. Keith Hall, D-Phelps; Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown; and Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Stumbo said the subpoenas violate Section 43 of the Kentucky Constitution, which states: "The members of the General Assembly shall ... be privileged from arrest during their attendance on the sessions of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same."

Stumbo said House members can testify at the hearing if it's postponed until after the legislative session. Without constitutional protection against being compelled to testify during sessions, Stumbo said, lawmakers could be dragged around the state by partisan-minded judges and executive branch officials, interrupting important legislative business.

The speaker said he has never spoken to Arnold's lawyer and knows nothing about the sexual harassment allegations outside of what has been published in news stories.

"I don't know what he expects the testimony to be. I've never heard of anyone subpoenaing people and not knowing what their testimony will be," said Stumbo, a lawyer.

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