By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT More state lawmakers have been subpoenaed by the attorney for former Democratic lawmaker John Arnold, who faces a Legislative Ethics Commission hearing Tuesday on allegations of sexual harassment.
But they may not honor them.
All but one of the House Democratic leaders said they have been served subpoenas: Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg; majority leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook; majority whip Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro; and Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris.
Only Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, has so far not been served. Rep. John Short, D-Hindman, confirmed Friday he too had been served while Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, and Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, wouldn’t confirm or deny if they had received orders to appear at Tuesday’s hearing.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said earlier this week he anticipated receiving a subpoena as well. Stivers and Stumbo, in their roles as leaders of the two legislative chambers, chair the 16-member Legislative Research Commission which employs legislative staff and governs the operations of the General Assembly.
All of the subpoenas apparently are from Arnold’s attorney, Steven Downey of Bowling Green. Downey did not immediately return a message left with his office assistant Friday seeking comment.
Stumbo – as he did when CNHI News first reported the subpoenas earlier this week – said he won’t honor the subpoena, instead invoking a constitutional immunity for lawmakers while the legislature is in session.
Otherwise, Stumbo said, the executive branch, in violation of the separation of powers, or a partisan judge might subpoena lawmakers to sway the outcome of a vote. He said he will be happy to appear before the Ethics Commission and “tell them whatever they want to know or ask me” – once the session ends in mid-April.
Section 43 of the Kentucky Constitution states: “The members of the General Assembly shall, in all cases except treason, felony, breach or surety of the peace, be privileged from arrest during the attendance on the sessions of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House they shall not be questioned in other place.”
Stumbo said he was hoping the Ethics Commission would agree to re-schedule Tuesday’s 10 a.m. meeting.
While Stumbo cited the separation of powers between the three branches of government for his position, Tuesday is also the day former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to appear in Louisville on behalf of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Grimes is the presumptive favorite to win her party’s nomination and square off against five-term Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell this fall. McConnell faces a primary challenge from Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin and three minor candidates but McConnell, the Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate, is heavily favored to win the Republican nomination.
During an August 2013 special session of the General Assembly it was revealed that two female legislative staff employees had filed charges with the Ethics Commission, alleging Arnold had sexually harassed them on multiple occasions and had refused to follow directions to stay away from the women. A short time later, a third woman filed similar complaints with the Ethics Commission.
Arnold subsequently resigned his seat in the General Assembly while maintaining his innocence. Two of the women eventually filed suit in Franklin Circuit Court against Arnold, but the subpoenas apparently pertain only to the Ethics Commission hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
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.