Review of sexual harassment charges took 6 months


by Joe Arnold

Posted on September 4, 2013 at 2:29 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 4 at 11:58 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- In a confounding paradox, Kentucky legislative leaders who called for transparency in the questioning of the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) decided the only way to get answers was to conduct the meeting in executive session - out of the public eye.

"These public officials who operate the LRC should be subjected to public scrutiny through the eyes of the public," complained Thomas Clay, the attorney representing two LRC employees who have accused Representative John Arnold (D-Sturgis) of sexual harassment.

Citing confidentiality concerns and potential legal implications of discussing personnel matters in
public, Legislative Research Commission Director Bobby Sherman repeatedly offered vague responses to lawmakers' questions about how the LRC has handled the harassment claims.

"The LRC is trying to conceal the results of allegations of misconduct on the part of Rep. Arnold as well as other potential complaints or past complaints that have been lodged against other legislators," Clay said. 

"They're trying to conceal that, and they are trying to hide behind the cloak of confidentiality."

Calling the executive session, "illegal," House Speaker Greg Stumbo refused to attend when the hearing resumed.  Four other members of the House leadership followed suit.

“The members of the House Democratic Leadership argued for the facts to be out in the public, and for the process to be transparent," Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) said in a statement.  "We heard the LRC director testify that appropriate action had been taken by me and our current House leadership staff when we first learned of the complaint in February.  That should dispel any rumors that we did not carry out our duty.”
Calling the constrained testimony "disrespectful," Hazard Senator Brandon Smith had enough about one hour into the hearing.

"There's some sort of gamesmanship at foot that nobody gave me the memo on," Smith (R-Hazard) addressed the committee.

"It's foolish for us to sit here and play this charade about asking questions and you not being able to answer them," Smith said.

Though a similar earlier motion by House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) went unheeded, the legislative leaders voted 10-5 to enter the secret session following Smith's plea.

"The more they try to keep these results confidential and out of the public eye the more resolved we are to pursue litigation," Clay warned.

Yet Clay acknowledged that he would be free to use in a lawsuit whatever was revealed in the hearing.

Clay also disputed Sherman's testimony that the LRC had provided the findings of its investigation to the complainants, Yolanda Costner and Cassaundara Cooper, who also attended the hearing.

Sherman testified that after he received the women's complaints on February 19, LRC investigators interviewed them, Rep. Arnold and witnesses.  Four months later, Sherman hired employment attorney Cheryl Lewis as “another set of eyes” on the case, he said.

“If it looks like our goal here is trying to make ourselves look good when it’s a serious matter and everyone takes it as such, I want to avoid that,” Sherman said.

"I think this whole process has been bungled from the start," Clay said.  "I think they have been inattentive to the concerns raised not only from these ladies but by other employees of the LRC."

Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said the committee took no action during the closed session.  Stivers had called for the LRC hearing after learning of the harassment cases in the media.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Legislative Research Commission Director Bobby Sherman has told lawmakers his agency's review of sexual harassment complaints against a western Kentucky lawmaker took six months.
Sherman, briefing legislative leaders on Wednesday, said he received two complaints against Democratic state Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis on Feb. 19, and that the review lasted until Aug. 27 when "final action" was taken.
Sherman declined to discuss that action publicly, citing confidentiality concerns in the case brought by legislative staffers. Those staffers complained that Arnold had touched them inappropriately and made vulgar comments.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo has appointed a special legislative committee to look into the complaints. That committee could recommend Arnold's censure or expulsion.
Arnold didn't immediately return a phone call to his legislative office Wednesday.

WHAS11’s Joe Arnold has more in the video above.