Local News
6:21 pm
Thu September 19, 2013

Kentucky Legislative Research Commission Finishes Inquiry Into John Arnold Sexual Harassment Claims

John Arnold
Credit Jonathan Meador/WFPL News

A letter from the Legislative Research Commission detailing what it said is its agency’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against former Kentucky state Rep. John Arnold “raises more questions than answers,” said an attorney representing two of Arnold's accusers.

Laura Hendrix, general counsel to the LRC, wrote in a Sept. 19 letter to attorney Thomas Clay that “the LRC investigative team has concluded the investigation into assertions brought by your clients Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner regarding Representative John Arnold.”

“This investigation was appropriate and timely,” Hendrix said.

But Clay, a Louisville attorney who has been retained by Costner and Cooper after they filed complaints with the state Legislative Ethics Commission alleging Arnold sexually harassed and assaulted them, said that this investigation “was neither appropriate nor timely.”

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

The women are employees of the LRC, a non-partisan agency that provides the state legislature with staffing and logistical support. They claim that the LRC did little to protect them against Arnold’s behavior, and that they were disappointed with the investigation conducted by Cheryl Lewis, an outside attorney hired by the LRC this summer.

“I find this letter very troubling,” Clay said in a telephone interview. “There’s no conclusion about what the results of the investigation are, and some of the things in there are downright troubling.”

A message was left with Hendrix’ office, and she did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Clay took issue with the letter’s claims that the LRC “took many steps to protect” the women’s rights and ensure their safety at work.

A timeline accompanying Hendrix’ letter states that on Feb. 28, 2013, Arnold was “advised of required restrictions of contact with complainants (‘conditions’) going forward” and that Arnold agreed to those conditions. Between Mar. 3, 2013, and July 9, 2013, the timeline states that “there was no finding of a violation of conditions during this period.”

According to the women’s complaints, however, Arnold repeatedly ignored the LRC’s recommendations and continued to harass them, including multiple instances of alleged verbal harassment against the women.

“There was no oversight,’ Clay said. “Rep Arnold basically thumbed his nose at everything he was told to do” by the LRC.

Arnold resigned from the House last week, saying in a letter to Gov. Steve Beshear that he has been “destroyed politically” by the allegations.

Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, released a statement on Stumbo’s behalf which defended the timeline produced by Hendrix.

"The LRC investigative team today released a timeline with the approval of both the House and Senate,” Stumbo said. “It shows that the complaints against John Arnold were handled promptly and professionally. LRC has now concluded its investigation and has confirmed that appropriate and timely steps were taken to maintain a professional work environment for all employees."

In response, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said that while he thinks sending the letter was a good idea, he won’t accept its contents at face value.

“Upon advice of counsel, we think that that was an appropriate letter to send,” Stivers said in a statement. “However, because we were briefed on the particulars of the situation just recently, we cannot give carte blanche acquiescence to the letter.”

A spokeswoman for Stivers said he was first made aware of the allegations against Arnold when they were first reported by WFPL and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting in August, and that he was never informed by House leadership or the LRC about them.

Clay maintains the investigation was “bungled from the start” and is mulling filing a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court seeking monetary damages for the harm inflicted against Cooper and Costner by Arnold and for the lax oversight of the LRC. The minimum amount allowed by state law for such damages is $5,000.

Clay also said he is in the process of gathering information that purports to document “the culture of sexual harassment that pervades the legislature” and that other legislators have engaged in behavior similar to Arnold’s. Clay declined to identify those legislators.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting contributed to this story.