The House committee investigating sexual harassment allegations against former Rep. John Arnold will attempt to hire Northern Kentucky attorney Patrick Hughes for legal counsel as it moves forward with its inquiry.
Lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to negotiate with Hughes, who was nominated by Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington. Rep. Jeff Donohue, a Louisville Democrat and chairman of the committee, said he didn’t know the cost of retaining Hughes as counsel.
The committee, which was created to look into claims by three LRC staffers that Arnold sexually harassed them on separate occasions dating back to 2008, met for the third time, but already concerns of partisanship have been raised.
Rep. Robert Benvenuti III, R-Lexington, said he didn’t submit any lawyers’ resumes for the committee to consider because attorneys he contacted were convinced they wouldn’t get a fair look with Democrats holding a 3-to-2 majority on the panel. Rep. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, had similar difficulties, he said.
“Frankly, people were not willing to be presented to this committee by either one of us because they thought that they would be outvoted, and they simply were not going to spend their time in that manner,” Benvenuti said.
“Now, I also said, frankly, that in spite of that that we had received high-quality resumes from various lawyers and various law firms.”
Frankfort is rife with partisanship, Simpson noted, but he believed the committee’s work rose above those familiar trappings of the capital city.
“I don’t really see you in this instance as members of the Republican Party, and I hope you don’t see me as a member of the Democratic Party,” Simpson said.
“We are all, collectively, individuals who are sworn, who have taken an oath, to uphold the Constitution and fulfill our duties, and our duty in this instance is to both work and act upon the petition that was lodged by (House Speaker Greg Stumbo). I hope that we can operate in a nonpartisan manner.”
Benvenuti and Donohue said after the meeting that partisanship had not fractured the committee.
Stumbo filed a petition of expulsion or censure against Arnold Aug. 29 after three LRC staffers filed complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission alleging Arnold had sexually harassed them in recent years. Two of those women, Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper, have filed lawsuits against Arnold, the Legislative Research Commission, Stumbo and the state in the matter.
Stumbo’s petition calls for the committee to have a final report ready for the House’s consideration during the first days of the 2014 legislative session that begins Jan. 7.
That leaves about three months for the panel to complete its work. Donohue said he’s confident the committee will have a report ready for the House by the beginning of the session.
“My intent is to live up to that task,” Donohue said.
Benevenuti, a former inspector general, said time is “a little tight” for the committee’s investigation, and the panel may request additional time from Stumbo if the inquiry drags into the upcoming 60-day session.
“There might be some flexibility there,” he said.
Other matters remain unresolved, such as whether the panel will hire an investigator. What’s more, the LRC, through its general counsel, sent the committee a letter recommending it suspend its investigation in light of the ongoing lawsuits, Donohue said.
The panel should continue its task “at the recommendation of counsel,” he said.
“We want to make sure we move forward properly,” Donohue said.
The investigative committee is set to meet again 1 p.m. next Wednesday.