Democratic Rep. John Arnold, entangled in a sexual harassment scandal involving three female Legislative Research Commission employees, resigned his seat in the House of Representatives Friday.
Gov. Steve Beshear said in a statement he received a resignation letter from Arnold, a 69-year-old retired chiropractor from Sturgis who was first elected to the House in 1995.
“I respect his decision to step aside so that our legislators can focus instead on the business of the state,” Beshear said in a statement.
Arnold did not return a call seeking comment left at his home.
In his resignation letter, Arnold said after consulting with an attorney he does not believe he is guilty of sexual harassment, but conceded the allegations have left him “destroyed politically.” He also cited poor health as a reason for stepping down, noting a chronic illness forced his absence during the final two weeks of the 2012 session.
“For these reasons I want to resign now in order that my constituents may select a new representative,” Arnold wrote in the letter, dated Friday.
“I deeply regret that my years in public office end on this note, most of all, because I am sure my constituents and loyal supporters are greatly disappointed by these allegations which have been so widely publicized.”
Arnold said in the letter he would make no further statements to the press.
Beshear said he would review options to call a special election in the 7th House District to ensure the district is represented during the 2014 legislative session. Arnold narrowly defeated Republican Tim Kline by five votes in the 2012 election.
Arnold has been accused by three LRC staffers — Yolanda Costner, an adviser to House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson; Cassaundra Cooper, an aide to House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins; and Gloria Morgan, a legislative secretary — of inappropriate touching and making lewd comments toward them dating back to 2008.
Thomas Clay, who represents Costner and Cooper, said Arnold’s resignation did not surprise him based on a conversation he had with an attorney representing Arnold, but he did not expect Arnold to resign this soon.
“I guess his resignation is an indication that he doesn’t want to face these charges, but it may not be the end of his issues as far as the legal system is concerned,” Clay said in a phone interview.
Costner and Cooper are still considering filing lawsuits in the matter, Clay said.
“If there aren’t concrete developments fairly quickly here, then I anticipate there’s going to be litigation,” he said, specifically mentioning settlement negotiations with Arnold and the Legislative Research Commission.
He declined to say whether LRC has offered a specific dollar amount.
Brenda Allen, Morgan’s attorney, said she and her client are happy with Arnold’s resignation.
“We’re also pleased that the Legislature, the General Assembly took this so seriously and moved quite quickly,” she said in a phone interview.
The Legislative Ethics Commission is investigating Costner, Cooper and Morgan’s claims, and a five-person panel of representatives, made up of Reps. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, Rita Smart, D-Richmond, Jeff Donohue, D-Louisville, Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, and Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, has been appointed to investigate Arnold’s actions.
The House is expected to receive a report on the panel’s findings at the opening of the 2014 session. The committee is scheduled to meet for the first time Tuesday.
“The resignation of Rep. John Arnold does not change the fact that the House has appointed a special committee of investigation, and the only thing that will change is that the members will not have to make a recommendation of potential disciplinary action,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a statement.
“We look forward to that committee beginning its work and providing feedback to the House.”
Senate President Robert Stivers said Arnold chose “the better path” in resigning his seat.
But with workplace issues still lingering, Stivers said he is calling on Stumbo to join him in releasing audio recordings of the closed-door Sept. 4 meeting of the 16-member Legislative Research Commission, made up of legislative leaders.
Stivers, R-Manchester, said the tapes would be reviewed for possible third party, non-legislator privacy concerns.
“This is the right and correct thing to do in light of today’s events,” he said in a statement Friday.
Lawmakers were given a timeline of events from LRC Director Robert Sherman and agency attorneys in open session, but additional details of LRC’s investigation of sexual harassment claims against Arnold were aired behind closed doors for four hours.
Stumbo and other House Democratic leaders did not participate in the executive session, questioning the legality of the closed-door meeting. Stumbo requested the meeting be recorded and a copy provided to him.