FRANKFORT — A special Kentucky House committee tasked with probing sexual harassment claims against former state Rep. John Arnold revealed Thursday morning that it has yet to actually begin investigating.
The committee’s only action was to request a “legal analysis and recommendation” from its attorney to provide the panel with an outline on how it should proceed relative to several unrelated investigations and lawsuits involving Arnold, the LRC and former Legislative Research Commission executive director Bobby Sherman, who is being investigated by the Kentucky State Police for shredding work documents.
Stumbo was also named in a joint civil action filed by LRC employees Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper, but Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate dismissed him from the suit Thursday.
The five-member committee was formed on Aug. 29 by Stumbo to investigate the claims brought by female LRC employees that allege Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, sexually harassed and assaulted them. Arnold resigned in September, and has denied the allegations.
Donohue said that the panel has not conducted any investigative action over its three-month lifespan, and said he was not sure when it would complete its probe.
He also said that the KSP’s investigation of Sherman could pose a problem for the committee, but was unclear on how it related to its task of investigating the claims against Arnold.
“The simple fact of the matter is that we … don’t want to give any kind of inclination that there’s a problem with us,” Donohue said. “And so what we have got to do is stay focused on where we’re at. And I understand what you’re saying about the Kentucky State Police, but with all this type of litigation that’s going on, I think it’s our charge to make sure that we don’t do anything that’s going to impede on or interfere with what we’re trying to move forward on.”
The “petition for censure or expulsion” filed by Stumbo that established the committee dictates that the probe is ultimately responsible for recommending punitive measures against Arnold if he is found guilty, which could result in a fine against the former legislator. The panel is also tasked with providing a report of its findings, including recommendations to address workplace harassment, to the 2014 General Assembly, which meets Jan. 7.
Donohue could not say how much the investigation has cost taxpayers since it was initially formed in late August, nor how much the state is paying its attorney, Patrick Hughes, a Northern Kentucky lawyer and former deputy attorney general, who was hired by the panel in October.
Hughes’ hiring was cited by Donohue as a factor in the committee’s lethargy because of a potential conflict of interest between Hughes and the committee.
Hughes represented Gov. Steve Beshear in a lawsuit over the governor’s implementation of the federal Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, which also named Stumbo and Senate President Stivers.
Donohue appeared to waffle on the issue of investigation’s scope, which fellow committee member Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said should be broadened to include more instances of harassment beyond the Arnold case.
At the committee’s Oct. 9 meeting, Benvenuti suggested sending a letter to LRC employees asking them to come forward with knowledge of harassment involving Arnold or other lawmakers.
While Donohue explicitly reiterated that the probe will continue to focus on the charges against Arnold, and would follow the outline set forth by Stumbo. However, he said that he is still considering Benvenuti’s suggestion.
“It’s up for interpretation,” he said. “We’re gonna discuss anything, okay? But we’re gonna stay on task with the John Arnold case.”
Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, whom is representing two of the female LRC staffers in a joint civil lawsuit against Arnold, said he is concerned by the close door session.
“It’s always troubling to me that things are done behind closed doors,” Clay said. “This is a matter that has a great public interest, and it should be transparent, particularly involving the allegations and the number of complaints that were apparently made against Rep. Arnold.”
The committee will next meet on Dec. 12 at noon in the Capitol Annex building.