By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo on Thursday filed a petition for the censure or expulsion of Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, setting the stage for the possible ouster of the Union County lawmaker accused of sexual harassment by legislative employees.
“I have decided to take this action so that the full House will have the opportunity to review the evidence and the recommendation of the eight-member investigation committee I shall appoint tomorrow,” Stumbo said.
Arnold, 69, has been accused by three female legislative employees of sexual harassment. All three filed formal complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission, alleging among other things that Arnold made lewd and vulgar comments or touched them inappropriately.
The allegations first became public when WFPL Radio of Louisville published a story last Wednesday in the middle of the special session on legislative redistricting. Arnold left that day without speaking to reporters and did not show up on Thursday or Friday.
Attempts to speak with Arnold, a chiropractor and farmer, have been unsuccessful. He didn’t answer calls to his chiropractic office or to his home Thursday nor did he respond to a voice message seeking comment left on his home answering service.
Arnold represents Union County and parts of Henderson and Daviess counties and was first elected to the House in 1994.
Stumbo also announced House leaders will send Arnold a letter informing him “he will be suspended as chairman of the Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance and Public Protection.”
Stumbo has informed Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and Gov. Steve Beshear of those actions.
On the day the WFPL story was published, Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, addressed the full House, saying Arnold’s behavior was unacceptable and has since called for Arnold’s resignation.
All members of the House — Democrats and Republicans — received an email from Stumbo Thursday informing them he had filed the petition. In the email, Stumbo wrote “you may be called upon to sit in judgment of this member. You should therefore not form any opinion or make any public comments which may impair your ability to perform this difficult but essential task.”
Stumbo said last week only the House, acting as an entire body, could censure or expel a member.
An attorney for two of Arnold’s accusers, Thomas Clay, has said there may be other complaints about other relationships between LRC employees and lawmakers and said his clients are considering filing suits in Franklin Circuit Court.
Stumbo has repeatedly said the complaints were being investigated by the LRC and its director, Bobby Sherman, according to American Bar Association guidelines. But that hasn’t satisfied very many, including some in his own Democratic House caucus.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, and Hoover requested a closed meeting of the Legislative Research Commission, comprised of leaders of both parties in both chambers to discuss the investigation. But Stumbo said such a meeting would be premature.
Even after Stumbo’s announcement Thursday that he planned to appoint an eight-member committee of the House to investigate the charges, Hoover and Stivers said an LRC meeting remains in order.
“We still need, and must have, a meeting of the LRC,” Hoover said. “The Speaker said last week he thought such a meeting was a good idea. We do not need to further cloud the issue and circumstances surrounding the allegations. I call on the Speaker again to have a full meeting of the LRC next Wednesday to properly address the situation.”
Stivers said Stumbo’s response since the allegations became public has been inconsistent and his call for a House investigation “does not resolve the problem of the legislature’s exposure to threatened litigation and money judgments” or resolve how to address “the culture that has been exposed by the actions of Rep. John Arnold.”
“The Speaker has stated that it would be ‘premature’ for LRC to inquire as to what investigation(s) are ongoing yet he has initiated his own investigation for that same purpose,” Stivers said in a written statement.
Stivers again on Thursday called for an LRC meeting on Sept. 4.
Stumbo, said “due process is crucial in legal matters, but we need to be ready if the findings show that these acts did indeed take place. This is not a decision I take lightly and it needs to be resolved quickly.”
Stumbo made similar remarks during a floor speech last week during the special session but even some of his own caucus said later he didn’t go far enough.
He was criticized Thursday by Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Steve Robertson for his statements regarding when he first learned of the accusations against Arnold. Stumbo initially said he’d only heard rumors of the allegations but he later released emails his staff sent to Sherman referencing the allegations and asking to receive a report when the LRC investigation was complete.
Stumbo’s petition was filed with the House Clerk and cites Section 39 of the Kentucky Constitution which says each chamber of the General Assembly “may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish a member for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member….”
“I wish none of this had to occur, but I am committed to seeing it resolved in a way that is swift, fair and transparent,” Stumbo said.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort