FRANKFORT — A former lawmaker accused of sexual harassment and the former head of the Legislative Research Commission made payments to settle sexual harassment and hostile workplace lawsuits filed by three female legislative staffers, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Monday.
The payments by John Arnold, a former Democratic representative from Sturgis and by Robert Sherman were in addition to the $400,000 paid by the legislature to settle the lawsuits, although Stumbo said he did not know how much each man paid.
As of late Monday, no details of the settlements had been filed in Franklin Circuit Court. Lawmakers have pledged to make the LRC's settlement document public, but it's not clear if details of settlement agreements with Sherman and Arnold, who no longer represent the government, will be made public.
Sherman was not available for comment; Arnold's attorney did not return a call.
Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who represented the women, revealed last week that the legislature was settling for $400,000. Clay said Monday he could not comment on Arnold and Sherman, "consistent with the agreement in mediation."
Stumbo also said that at least 11 of the state's 16 legislative leaders signed off on the $400,000 payment from the legislature, which will be paid with taxpayers' money. He did not release the names of the leaders who declined to sign.
He said that a survey of leadership was taken by the director's office and that he voted to approve the settlement because counsel had advised the cost of defending the lawsuits might be greater than the cost of settlement.
LRC officials said the agency did not have a formal listing of votes by leadership members on the settlement.
"The speaker and president are authorized by a 1982 LRC policy to defend lawsuits and take action during litigation," said LRC general counsel Laura Hendrix. "All members were consulted at appropriate times throughout the process to obtain sufficient authorization to litigate and settle the cases."
The settlement ended a scandal that brought the resignations of Arnold and Sherman. The agreement focused on two lawsuits filed in October 2013.
In one, Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra 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 while serving in the General Assembly.
The Legislative Ethics Commission last year found Arnold guilty of three counts of inappropriate conduct related to the women's complaints, issuing a $1,000 fine and a public reprimand for each count. Arnold appealed that finding to Franklin Circuit Court.
The lawsuit also charged that Sherman did not handle the sexual harassment complaints appropriately.
When Sherman resigned as LRC executive director in 2013 after sharp questions about his leadership in the wake of the harassment scandal, the National Conference of State Legislatures sent a team to Frankfort to study the legislative agency.
It issued a critical report calling the LRC a "frustrated" workplace whose 388 employees struggled with poor morale, in part because of perceived favoritism for certain insiders and a lack of merit-based hiring and promotion.
The LRC, led by Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, named Marcia Seiler as interim director. A full-time director is expected to be named this year.
Stumbo said Monday that he was concerned about Sherman's shredding of work-related documents before he left his job, saying it left "a cloud over the case."
Kentucky State Police investigated the shredding, but no charges have been filed. A KSP spokesperson could not be reached for comment Monday.
In the other 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.
Coursey denied the claim. He still sits in the House.
Costner was an executive adviser to House Democratic leadership when she sued. She's now unemployed. House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, fired her in January with a letter that said her services no longer were required.
Stumbo said Monday that neither Coursey nor Bell paid anything in the settlement.
Several state officials went to court to ask that their depositions in the cases be kept out of the public record, including Coursey, Sherman and state Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat who chairs the House majority caucus and is running for lieutenant governor.