The attorney for two Legislative Research Commission employees who filed sexual harassment complaints against Rep. John Arnold said Thursday that House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s petition for expulsion or censure is the appropriate course of action but “late in coming.”
Stumbo filed the petition Thursday, which creates a special committee in the state House to investigate claims that Arnold, D-Sturgis, inappropriately touched and made lewd comments against three female LRC employees.
“I have decided to take this action so that the full House will have the opportunity to review the evidence and the recommendation of the eight-member investigative committee I shall appoint tomorrow,
after speaking with candidates from both the majority and minority caucuses,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a statement.
“… As I said last week during the special session, I believe strongly that due process is crucial in legal matters, but we need to be ready if the findings show that these acts did indeed take place. This is not a decision I take lightly, and it needs to be resolved quickly.”
The House can expel or censure Arnold by two-thirds vote. The committee’s investigation will be presented to the House on the first day of the 2014 legislative session for possible action, and the panel can summon Arnold, LRC Director Robert Sherman and other agency supervisors to testify.
Stumbo also announced Thursday that Arnold had been suspended as chairman of the Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance and Public Protection.
Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who represents LRC employees Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper, said House leaders should have acted sooner to investigate the claims, which date back to 2009 and as recently as Feb. 14. Costner and Cooper filed ethics complaints Aug. 16 with the Legislative Ethics Commission.
The Legislative Research Commission twice has investigated sexual harassment claims against Arnold but has not disclosed the results of those investigations, Clay said. The agency hired Hyden attorney Cheryl Lewis in May to evaluate its response to the complaints after John Schaaf, general counsel of the Legislative Ethics Commission, raised concerns with LRC’s handling of the matter.
Clay questioned the effectiveness of a House investigation in light of LRC’s response to his clients’ complaints.
“It may wind up being ineffective as the steps LRC has taken thus far have been,” he said. “I believe in due process, but I believe the process ought to move, and I don’t think it ought to stagnate to the point where it becomes ineffective.”
Costner, an adviser to House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson, and Cooper, an aide to House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, also are contemplating legal action in Franklin Circuit Court, alleging discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment, Clay said. A decision should come within 10 days, he said.
The women are “anxious to see what’s actually going to happen,” Clay said.
A third LRC staffer, legislative secretary Gloria Morgan, has filed a similar ethics complaint against Arnold as well as LRC. Her attorney, Brenda Allen of Frankfort, did not respond to a request for comment.
The General Assembly also took steps Thursday to review LRC’s response to sexual harassment claims against Arnold.
Senate President Robert Stivers issued a letter signed by Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, calling for a Wednesday closed-door meeting of the Legislative Research Commission made up of House and Senate leaders.
“While I applaud the Speaker for seeking proportional punishment for the alleged acts, that does not resolve the problem of the Legislature’s exposure to threatened litigation and money judgments,” Stivers, R-Manchester, said in a statement.
“Lastly, it also does not resolve the most significant problem which is how to address the culture that has been exposed by the actions of Rep. John Arnold.”
Stumbo has said the independent review of LRC’s response should be completed before lawmakers look into the agency’s handling of the matter, but said in a letter to Stivers that he did not oppose the Wednesday meeting.