Politics

Newly released depositions of a former state official and a former state lawmaker shed a fresh light on sexual harassment allegations and a workplace plagued by low morale at the Legislative Research Commission.

According to his deposition, which a judge allowed to be released on Wednesday, former LRC Director Bobby Sherman threw away calendars and didn’t take notes during the agency’s in-house investigation of former state Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis.

Arnold was accused in February 2013 of inappropriately touching and verbally harassing female staffers at the LRC. The accusers filed a formal lawsuit against Arnold and the LRC in August 2013, he then resigned in September 2013, saying that he had been “destroyed politically” by the allegations.

The Legislative Ethics Commission found Arnold guilty of violating the state’s ethics rules, fining him $3,000.

Sherman was accused in a separate lawsuit, which also implicated the LRC, of not doing enough to address sexual harassment in the state agency.

Sherman resigned from his position in September 2013.

In the deposition, Sherman said he and the investigative team sanctioned Arnold for his behavior, telling him: “It’s gonna have to cease.”

Arnold was instructed to not engage with his accusers directly or be in their offices alone.

But the deposition suggests Arnold violated the terms of his agreement at least once, leading Sherman to impose further restrictions on Arnold’s movement throughout the Capitol.

In the deposition, Sherman expressed frustration over his inability to control Arnold’s actions.

“In terms of him following those conditions […] I couldn’t fire him. So no, I guess I did not have ultimate authority over him,” Sherman said.

He said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, had the final say over what happened to Arnold.

Sherman also said in his testimony that other reports from Arnold’s accusers weren’t documented, and he acknowledged that his own notes were incomplete during the episode.

Kentucky State Police investigated a mass-shredding of documents that occurred after Sherman resigned from his post in September 2013. KSP found no misconduct on Sherman’s part in 2014, and then the investigation was reopened later in the year.

During the deposition, Sherman said he was “aware of rumors of sexual relationships” between lawmakers and LRC staffers over the years, although he said they didn’t go further than gossip. He added that LRC was “the perfect place to be” for people who like rumors “because it’s loaded with them. It’s a, it’s a — it’s a marvel.”

Sherman’s deposition also gave new insight into the state agency which the National Conference on State Legislatures has called “an enigma in the minds of many employees,” according to an audit released this year. The former director also detailed his rationale for not posting some job openings in the LRC.

“Sometimes you’d get a position and it would be clear, or I would be clear, that this person’s gonna be it,” Sherman said. “So, if I already knew, and I tell people in meetings that I would not post that job because it was unfair to — to make folks think that they had a chance to get it when they didn’t.”

A new LRC director is scheduled to start work on Oct. 1. Lawmakers say he’ll be tasked with reforming the agency and implementing the NCSL’s recommendations.

Clay, the accusers’ attorney who conducted the deposition, said on Wednesday he wanted to press Sherman on sexual relationships in the Capitol in a subsequent deposition, but attorneys for the defense began to indicate they wanted to settle the case out of court.

“We were going to get to that, and they knew we were going to get to that,” Clay said.

In a separate deposition, Arnold flatly denied inappropriately touching the female staffers. He appeared confused by some questions and often said he couldn’t recall answers.

Arnold admitted in the deposition to “spanking on the knee” Rep. Sannie Overly, a Democrat from Paris and current candidate for lieutenant governor, on the House floor.

Arnold said in response, Overly told him: “If I ever hit her on the knee again, she’d knock me out.”

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.