The governing arm of the Kentucky General Assembly is ready to sign a contract with an attorney chosen to advise a House Select Committee looking into allegations of sexual harassment against former lawmaker John Arnold of Sturgis.
The committee – made up of Democrats Jeff Donahue of Louisville, Rita Smart of Richmond and Arnold Simpson of Covington and Republicans Richard Benvenuti of Lexington and Julie Raque Adams of Louisville – was appointed by House Speaker Greg Stumbo after three female employees filed complaints against Arnold with the Legislative Ethics Branch.
The allegations became public during the August special session dealing with redistricting and Arnold, while maintaining his innocence, resigned his seat in September.
But the committee has been slow to begin its actual work and some of its members have been frustrated by the delays. In mid-October, the committee voted to contract with former Deputy Attorney General Patrick Hughes, now a partner in the northern Kentucky and Cincinnati firm, DBL. But Hughes also represented Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration in a legal challenge to the governor’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act and expansion of Medicaid.
Because Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers were named in that suit, now under appeal, it created a technical conflict of interest. Hughes told CNHI News at the time he expected Stumbo and Stivers – who were named only in their official capacities – to be dropped from the appeal.
But unrelated motions in the case have delayed a ruling on the motion to drop Stumbo and Stivers from the case. But Hughes told CNHI News last week that the problem doesn’t represent an actual conflict because Stumbo’s interest in the Medicaid litigation isn’t adverse to the Beshear administration’s position.
But facing continued delay in the select committee’s work, House leadership decided to proceed with a contract between the legislature and Hughes and the committee is set to meet with Hughes Thursday at 9 a.m.
“All I can tell you is we hired an attorney and he’s supposed to meet with us Thursday,” said Smart, the Democrat from Richmond who has previously expressed frustration with the pace of the committee’s deliberations.
Marcia Seiler, the interim director of the Legislative Research Commission, the governing and staffing arm of the General Assembly, said her staff has a contract ready for Hughes to sign on Thursday at the request of Stumbo’s office.
Pierce Whites, Stumbo’s General Counsel, said Stumbo wanted to ensure the committee could get on with his work and asked for the contract to be prepared.
Smart said the committee has been told the problem of the potential conflict has been dealt with and Hughes “can work with us now.”
“I would hope that on Thursday, our legal counsel will give us guidance about what our legal authority and jurisdiction is and we can move forward,” Smart said.
Benvenuti and Adams, the Republicans on the committee, have suggested the committee should encourage LRC staff to come forward with any additional information they wished to share with the committee, including potential complaints against others. Donahue, the committee’s chairman, has said the committee’s charge is specifically restricted to the allegations against Arnold. But he agreed to seek the advice of their attorney before ruling on Benvenuti’s suggestion.
Benvenuti agrees the charge is limited to Arnold’s alleged actions, but he contends staff should be allowed to share concerns or information about others’ behavior which the committee can then turn over to the Legislative Research Commission, the governing arm of the General Assembly.
That is likely to be one of the first questions the committee will pose to Hughes on Thursday.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort
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