A Wednesday meeting of top legislators will be closed to the public, but it will be recorded after a request from House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who anticipates lawsuits to be filed by two Legislative Research Commission employees alleging sexual harassment.
Stumbo, in a letter to Senate President Robert Stivers, noted he has released a series of documents showing House leaders’ willingness to investigate claims that Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, sexually harassed and made lewd comments toward female LRC employees.
Three employees — Cassaundra Cooper, an aide to House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins; Yolanda Costner, an adviser to House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson; and Gloria Morgan, a legislative secretary — have filed ethics complaints against Arnold and have said LRC leaders failed to protect them when they brought their concerns forward.
Cooper and Costner are contemplating suing, according to their attorney, Thomas Clay.
“In light of counsel for the complainant’s stated intent to bring formal legal proceedings, every member of LRC should be prepared to be called as witnesses to regarding any closed session discussions,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in his letter Tuesday to Stivers, R-Manchester.
“Because 16 people can seldom agree on particulars, it is essential to record the proceedings to avoid differing recollections. This will also serve as my formal request for a copy of such a recording.”
Stivers, who will chair Wednesday’s LRC meeting, will move to have the meeting in executive session, but the closed-door meeting will be recorded, said Lourdes Baez, Stivers’ spokeswoman.
Clay said he plans to attend the meeting as “a concerned citizen,” but no decision has been made on filing lawsuits in the matter.
“I’d like to see Sen. Stivers again and convey to him that I think he’s taking the proper approach and say hello to the speaker,” Clay said in a phone interview.
“I don’t know the speaker from Adam, and he doesn’t know me either, but he might get to know me before long.”
Leading lawmakers will discuss LRC’s response to sexual harassment claims dating back to 2009 and as recently as Feb. 14 during Wednesday’s meeting. In their complaints, the women describe incidents where Arnold allegedly grabbed Costner’s underwear, slapped Cooper on the buttocks and asked Morgan if she planned to “come out and play” one evening.
They said their complaints were met with indifference by top LRC staff, which LRC Director Robert Sherman has denied.
Arnold, who has been suspended as chair of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance and Public Protection, has not commented on the matter.
Stumbo filed a petition of censure or expulsion against Arnold last week and appointed five lawmakers to serve on an investigative committee, which will report its findings to the House on the first day of the 2014 session. The House can take action against Arnold, including expulsion, by a two-thirds vote.