Former lawmaker not guilty of sexual harassment after 4-1 vote

Accusers unhappy with the result

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission exonerated former Rep. John Arnold Tuesday after motions to find him guilty in three separate ethics complaints involving allegations of sexual harassment fell one vote short of passing.

Commissioners thrice voted 4-1 to find Arnold in violation of the legislative code of ethics, but each motion failed because the panel must have five affirmative votes to take action.

Arnold, a Sturgis Democrat, resigned his seat in September, less than a month after the sexual harassment complaints became public.

Five members of the nine-person board, which has one vacancy, heard testimony from complainants and witnesses Tuesday, meaning votes on each complaint had to be unanimous to punish Arnold.

Mike Malone, the commission’s enforcement counsel, had recommended public reprimands and fines up to $1,000 for each of the complaints against Arnold.

The result of the five-and-a-half hour hearing had two of the three women who accused Arnold of sexual harassment complaining of political gamesmanship by House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s recent appointee to the commission, a charge he vehemently denied.

Cassaundra Cooper, a staffer on House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins’ staff who took the stand and said Arnold slapped her on the buttocks Feb. 14, 2013, said she was “disappointed in the process.”

“I kind of think we knew there was going to be some maneuvering, and evidently that maneuvering took place,” Cooper said after the hearing. “… We think the speaker’s appointee was done for a reason, the timing of it, and it came into play today.”

Yolanda Costner, an advisor to House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson who testified that Arnold grabbed the back of her pants and underwear while walking to the Capitol Annex in 2010, said Tuesday’s result was a win for “the good ol’ boy system.”

She noted personal concerns of Elmer George’s appointment by Stumbo in January given his political background.

George, the lone dissenter Tuesday, has donated $18,000 to various statewide and legislative Democratic candidates since 1999, according to election finance records, including $500 to Stumbo’s successful 2003 campaign for attorney general and $1,000 when he ran for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Bruce Lunsford.

Women who work at the Legislative Research Commission, Costner said, “aren’t protected at all” from sexual harassment.

“We sacrificed trying to make things better for our agency and for protection of women,” she said. “… Women that are being sexually harassed here in Frankfort, you can just forget it.

“You just have to take a spanking on the butt, you have to take having your underwear pulled, you have to take being verbally assaulted, and nobody’s going to care about it,” she continued. “Nobody’s going to do anything, so it’s best if you want to keep your job and your position, keep your mouth shut.”

George took offense to accusations that his vote was cast politically.

“I took an oath the day when I got sworn in to practice law, and I took an oath when I took this position, and I made my decision based on what I believe the law to be,” said George, a Lebanon attorney. “They’ll tell you that I’ve had questions from day one whether there was jurisdiction over a legislator who’s retired or quit for whatever reason.

“… I consider it an insult that someone would say I made a decision based solely on politics.”

In a statement, Stumbo did not address political concerns expressed by Cooper and Costner but reiterated that his office took appropriate action once the women came forward with complaints of harassment.

“The day we learned of the incident we acted to protect our employees and instructed the LRC director to investigate the allegations and follow our policy,” Stumbo said in the statement. “The testimony today confirms these facts.”

Steve Downey, Arnold’s Bowling Green attorney, said he spoke to Sandy Arnold, his client’s wife, about the commission’s decision and planned to speak to Arnold, who did not attend Tuesday’s hearing, personally later that day.

Much of Downey’s defense centered on health problems faced by the former state representative, notably a diagnosis of progressive dementia.

Malone, the ethics commission’s enforcement counsel, rejected claims that Arnold’s deteriorating health explained his behavior, saying medical records gave no indication Arnold had lost his ability to discern right from wrong.

“We’ve very happy justice was done here,” Downey told reporters.

Attorneys for the three women did not delve into Cooper’s and Costner’s political accusations, but they said they would have preferred to delay Tuesday’s hearing so other members of the commission could have considered their cases.

Frankfort attorney Brenda Allen — whose client, legislative secretary Gloria Morgan, said Arnold rubbed her back inappropriately and asked her if she would “come out to play” sometime around 2009 — said while she was disappointed in the result, she was glad all but one of those present wanted to punish Arnold.

“The majority of the members did believe Ms. Morgan and did believe that it was a violation, so I think she stands vindicated for what she’s done despite the fact there will be no sanction,” Allen told The State Journal.

But she added later: “I wish that the hearing was scheduled at such a time that more members could have participated in it.”

Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who represents Costner and Cooper in the ethics matter and a pending lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court against LRC and Arnold, said he was troubled by George’s vote in light of the “uncontroverted” evidence presented Tuesday.

“It certainly seems problematic that one vote can thwart the whole procedure, and that’s what happened,” Clay told The State Journal.

The three who did not attend the hearing — Deborah Jo Durr of Richwood, a Stumbo appointee; Norma Scott of Madisonville, appointed by former Senate President David Williams; and Paul Gudgel of Lexington, appointed by Democratic Rep. Jody Richards during his time as speaker — had out-of-state scheduling conflicts, said Anthony Wilhoit, the ethics commission’s executive director.

“When I set the date for this, I didn’t know three members were going to be absent, OK, and there’s certain things we have to move on,” said George Troutman of Louisville, the commission chairman who joined Bob Fulkerson of Louisville, Pat Freibert of Lexington and Vernie McGaha of Russell Springs in voting to find Arnold guilty. “This case has been dragging for a long time, and it needs to be settled.”

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  • Shame on Stumbo, shame on the ethic's committee, shame on Mr George for selling his soul, shame on Charlie and Brucie Moore from Arnold's home in Union County for turning their heads against the well-documented reports of harrassment, and shame on Ms Grimes for running away from this very clear and evident issue in the KY Democrat Party. I grew up with John Arnold, and I'm not surprised his interactions with females have remained unquestioned for so many years. 

  • The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission is portraying John Arnold as an incompetent, senile, and demented elderly man whose wife, Sandy, must attempt to explain the 'good news' to him. C'mon, guys, this a really, really bad joke. I attended Sturgis High School with John Arnold and Sandy. He was a 'touchy feely' type dude when he was in high school, his choice of chiropractics simply gave him a quasi-legitimate reason to continue being a 'touchy feely' type dude in his career before politics, and upon his entering the political arena in Frankfort, he discovered a free rein to expand his 'touchy feely' tendencies under the guise of being an elected official, a true Son of the South, an honest to goodness hands-on politician. I personally visited in Sandy and John Arnold's house in Sturgis about 15 or 16 years ago, and I was disgusted by the condition of their kitchen, the room where I was invited to sit and chat with two fellow classmates. Dirty pots and pans, and stacked dinner plates with hunks of dried food describe the kitchen counter tops; however, the, at minimum, 12" diameter pasta bowl in the dead center of the kitchen table literally was overflowing with cigarette butts. No, Sandy is not a smoker and never was. Sandy was pleasant and gracious, as always; however, John was sullen and disinterested in any conversation simply because, I suspect, I no longer lived in his District. He no longer had a reason to exercise the slaps on the back, the big hearty hand shakes, and his infamous leacherous hugs. I'm so sorry for the ladies in Frankfort who've endured his inappropriate behaviors for years and years. Shame on this bogus ethics committee's announcement. Shame on Stumbo, shame on the Ethics Committee, shame on Jack Conway whose roots are deep in Union County, and shame on Charlie Moore and Brucie Moore from Arnold's home county for turning their heads to this Democrat Party blatant slap in the face of female clerical workers, especially to females of color employed by the Commonwealth of KY. And, more especially shame on Ms Grimes for running away from this issue. 

  • Why wasn't this man put through the criminal justice system instead of a kangaroo court. Stumbo is so full of himself and an embarrassment to Kentuckians. His constituents ought to sober him up and quit electing the POS. The whole system is a joke.

  • What a shame.......these gutless legislators make me ill.  I noted Arnold has a big smile.  Guess he has quite a few friends.  I feel sorry for these ladies and what they went through.

  • Only five of eight-member panel where at attendance.  Not accusing the other panel members of anything but sure would like to know what their excess for not being there.  How often does this type of vote takes place?  Not often I’d say.  Eight people couldn’t agree on a date that all would be there…pitiful! 

    The biggest thing that grinds my gears is that one member or some other person said they didn’t think the panel had any authority to level any charges since that low life POS is no longer a representative. Here’s a thought speed up the process or change the rules.  And another thing, does he keep his enhanced retirement pay?