KyCIR Fights to Release Records in Sexual Harassment Case Involving State Lawmakers

State Rep. John Arnold, a Sturgis Democrat, during legislative session, Feb. 25, 2010.

Legislative Research Commission

State Rep. John Arnold, a Sturgis Democrat, during legislative session, Feb. 25, 2010.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and The Courier-Journal have filed a motion to intervene in an ongoing sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the Legislative Research Commission by two former staffers of the agency.

The media organizations are trying to bring to light depositions of former Legislative Research Commission director Bobby Sherman and state Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat.

Overly is scheduled to be deposed on Monday and Sherman was deposed on Wednesday. They have tried to keep the depositions sealed, citing privacy concerns.

Sherman announced his resignation from the LRC in September 2013, following the conclusion of an internal probe into allegations that former state Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, sexually harassed statehouse employees.

In 2013, KyCIR broke the story (our first story) of two longtime Kentucky statehouse employees alleging a years-long pattern of sexual assault and harassment by Arnold.

Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner, in separate complaints, allege Arnold inappropriately touched them and made lewd and vulgar comments in numerous incidents over several years.

According to documents filed in the lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court, Arnold also inappropriately touched Overly, who is currently running for lieutenant governor on the ticket headed by current state Attorney General Jack Conway.

Overly did not respond to a request for comment.

Jon Fleischaker, an attorney representing KyCIR and The Courier-Journal, said Thursday that the lawsuit isn’t a private matter.

“Court proceedings are public, it is dealing with a very public agency, a very important public agency and with officials and legislators who are very public people.”

The sexual harassment suit originated in October 2013, when Cooper and Costner went public with their claims.

Arnold resigned from the legislature after they filed complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission, charging him with misconduct.

Arnold and House Speaker Greg Stumbo were named defendants in their lawsuit, though Stumbo was dismissed from the case in late 2013. Rep. Johnny Bell, the House Whip, was added as a defendant in the suit in February for allegedly retaliating against Costner.

The lawsuit also accuses the LRC of covering up sexual harassment in the state agency and in the legislature.

(This article includes reporting by Ryland Barton of Kentucky Public Radio, which is affiliated with KyCIR.)

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