Local News
1:32 pm
Mon November 18, 2013

Judge to Rule on Stumbo's Dismissal in John Arnold Civil Trial

From left: Cassaundra Cooper, Yolanda Costner, attorney Thomas Clay
Credit Jonathan Meador, Kentucky Public Radio

FRANKFORT — A Franklin Circuit Court judge will decide which parties can be named in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the  former Rep. John Arnold and entities within Kentucky state government. 

Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate gave defendants a week to examine new evidence brought by attorneys for Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper, who allege that Arnold sexually harassed and assaulted them and that their supervisors did little to address it.

(Related: Past coverage of the John Arnold allegations from WFPL and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.)

The evidence concerns comments by retired Legislative Research Commission executive director Bobby Sherman about whether the women are non-partisan LRC employees since they serve the body’s partisan leadership. It could be used to determine whether the LRC can be sued, or whether the agency is indistinguishable from the state—as the Kentucky Attorney General's Office has argued.

Thomas Clay, attorney for the Costner and Cooper, said he thinks the women are technically employees of House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who is also named in the complaint and has asked the court to be removed from the suit.

This would allow them to claim an unspecified amount of backpay they say they're owed, Clay explained, because if the women were state employees then they would be exempt from applicable provisions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

“I think they’re employed by the Speaker of the House, at least, for the House partisan staff because Mr. Sherman—again, we can’t go into the details—but, there was some positions he took which I think are inconsistent with maintaining that LRC is in fact their employer," Clay said.

Those positions were made evident during a Sept. 4 meeting of LRC's political leadership to discuss the allegations against Arnold, who resigned in September. At the meeting, Sherman contended that some LRC staff like Costner and Cooper are considered partisan employees, which Sherman explained to mean they directly report to elected political leadership, and not the LRC.

Anna Whites, an attorney for Stumbo, argued that Sherman was a confused witness, and that his statements could not change the law.

Wingate gave the defendants five days to review the evidence submitted by Clay, and said he would make a ruling on the matter by Dec. 2.

The separate case against Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, by former secretary and LRC employee Nicole Cusic will be heard on Dec. 2 in Marshall County, as well. Cusic is also represented by Clay, who has filed a motion to move the case to Franklin County "where it belongs."

Cusic has accused Coursey and Sherman of retaliating against her when she alleged to supervisors that Coursey attempted to forge an inappropriate relationship with a female intern. Coursey has denied the allegations.