A House committee formed to investigate former Rep. John Arnold, who resigned last month amid allegations of sexual harassment, may seek additional testimony from Legislative Research Commission staffers.
Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, suggested drafting a letter to send to all LRC staff members, informing them of the intent of the committee and inviting them to address the members at its next meeting, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 16.
Three legislative staffers — Yolanda Costner, an advisor to House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson; Cassaundra Cooper, an aide to House Majority Leader Rodney Adkins; and Gloria Morgan, a legislative secretary — have accused Arnold of inappropriately touching them and making lewd comments toward them dating back to 2008.
Costner and Cooper filed a lawsuit Oct. 1, claiming to be victims of workforce harassment and retaliation.
“We owe it to the citizens of the commonwealth to make sure this matter is thoroughly and properly investigated outside of what may be going on in the civil lawsuit so that there is at least some assurance that this conduct won’t be repeated in the future,” Benvenuti said.
“It’s also important to note we should not assume that only those who have already engaged counsel and have filed civil actions are the only ones who might have information or might have concerns relative to this matter.”
He said it would be prudent to get a letter out to get some idea of how many staffers would be interested in presenting information. But, Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, and another member on the committee, weren’t so sure.
“The threshold question is, ‘Did sexual harassment take place?’” Simpson said. “We have proof from one or two witnesses. …Why do we need more proof? What does this satisfy that they couldn’t serve? Are they witnesses to the occurrences? As I sit here, I’m struggling with the need of a full list of witnesses.”
The committee will decide whether to solicit information from additional staffers after its next meeting, when legal counsel will also be addressed.
The LRC has retained Leslie Patterson Vose with Landrum & Shouse to defend against two lawsuits, but the committee is seeking separate legal counsel.
The committee will continue accepting resumes for the position until the next meeting, but members hope to vet the applicants before that time.
Legislative secretary Nicole Cusic filed the other lawsuit. She claims she was transferred to another job after she approached Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, about “sexually harassing behavior toward interns and LRC employees.”
Benvenuti also suggested hiring an investigator, especially when the committee begins taking testimony and drafting a report, but other members questioned the cost and necessity of such a move.
Member Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, inquired about the budget of the committee, but Chairman Rep. Jeff Donohue, D-Louisville, said he’s not sure.
“I don’t know either, but I don’t think we’ve got this much money,” Smart said.
Donahue spoke in favor of retaining legal counsel before considering whether to proceed with an investigator or a letter, but he said the committee would both do what is right and be a good steward of the commonwealth’s money.
“We’ve only got one shot at this and we’ve got to get it right,” he said.