Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

May 7, 2014

Arnold found guilty 2nd time

Ethics commission agrees to issue reprimand, $3,000 in fines

GLASGOW — FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission Wednesday found former lawmaker John Arnold guilty on three counts of ethics violations over the objections of Arnold’s attorney who argued the case had already been resolved on April 8.

The commission agreed to issue a public reprimand and fine Arnold $1,000 on each of the three counts, the fines totaling $3,000. Arnold was not present.

Arnold, 69, a Democrat from Union County, resigned from his House seat in September 2013 after three African-American women who work for the legislature – Cassaundra Cooper, Yolanda Costner and Gloria Morgan – filed ethics complaints alleging Arnold sexually harassed them. Costner and Cooper also filed suit against Arnold in Franklin Circuit Court.

Wednesday was the second time the commission heard took ups the Arnold case. On April 8, five members, a legal quorum, heard testimony and voted 4-1 to find Arnold guilty. But the motion required five votes to pass. Elmer George voted no, saying the commission had no jurisdiction to discipline a former lawmaker.

That raised a public outcry and calls for the commission to re-hear the case when more members could attend.

The commission’s enforcement counsel, Mike Malone, said Wednesday that after researching the statute establishing the commission, he concluded five affirmative votes are to take any action and consequently the case against Arnold had not been settled.

Arnold’s attorney, Steve Downey, vigorously opposed that interpretation, saying a motion to find Arnold guilty on April 8 failed and reminded Commission Chairman George Troutman that he’d said at the conclusion of the April 8 meeting, “This is history.”

Troutman agreed but said he had since realized the statute requires five affirmative votes.

The commission then went into executive session to discuss motions filed by Downey, the three complainants and Malone. Reporters objected, contending that type of discussion isn’t included among specified exceptions to Kentucky’s open meetings law, but were nevertheless required to leave.

After meeting behind closed doors for 20 minutes, the commission voted to re-hear the case. The commission then heard testimony from all three women, Roy Collins of the Legislative Research Commission, lawmaker Reginald Meeks and a part-time legislative employee.

Cooper described an episode in which she said Arnold “slapped me on the butt.” Costner and Meeks, who witnessed the event, testified that Arnold grabbed Costner’s pants and underwear. The two women said Arnold continued to visit their work areas after Collins had warned him to stay away.

Morgan testified that in 2009, Arnold “put his hands on my back and rubbed his hands from the top of my bra to the lower part of my back. He asked me did I want to come out and play tonight and I told him, no, I’ve got work to do.”

Downey asked each woman if Arnold’s behavior made it clear he was ill and not acting normally. He also suggested that the three women conferred before filing complaints.

Downey submitted depositions from two physicians and a long-time friend of Arnold’s, all of whom testified Arnold was suffering from “some form of degenerative dementia.”

Downey again argued the case had already been decided, saying, “There’s nothing fair about this.” He also said the commission reversed itself only after the public outcry over its original vote.

He said Arnold received no advantage from his actions and did not use his position for advantage, requirements for conviction under the ethics law. Malone countered that Arnold received “sexual gratification” and believed his position as lawmaker insulated him from punishment.

The commission passed three motions finding Arnold guilty on each count.  Voting for the motions were Troutman, Deborah Jo Durr, Norma Scott, Paul Cudgel, Bob Fulkerson and Pat Friebert. While George voted with the others to re-hear the case, he again voted no on the motions, again saying he thought the commission lacked jurisdiction once Arnold resigned his seat in the legislature.

“The decision they made to re-try Mr. Arnold after having completed their trial before is in error, it’s not authorized by statute and will be the subject of an appeal to the Franklin Circuit Court,” Downey said afterward.

“I praise God, our prayers have been answered,” Costner said. She said she, Cooper and Morgan wanted Arnold held accountable for hurting and humiliating them to prevent others from suffering the same humiliation.

“It’s damaged our careers. It’s damaged our relationships with our bosses,” Cooper said. Costner said her health has also suffered since the events and the publicity surrounding the case.

Costner agreed the “public attention that was given to the way the hearing ended the last time” prompted the commission to re-hear the case Wednesday. Both women said they are likely to continue pursuing their civil suit against Arnold.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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