Former state lawmaker found guilty of ethics violations - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Former state lawmaker found guilty of ethics violations

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FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) – The Legislative Ethics Commission found a former state representative guilty on three counts of ethics code violations Wednesday.

Commission members voted 5-1 to impose a $1,000 fine on each charge and publicly reprimand former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis. The hearing was only possible after the panel decided earlier in the day to reconsider the case.

Three legislative staff members accused Arnold of sexually harassing them over a five-year period. Arnold resigned last September after the women -- Yolanda Costner, Cassaundra Cooper and Gloria Morgan -- brought the complaints against him.

"Our prayers have been answered," Costner said after the decision. "We're not alleging these things happened to us -- they actually happened to us. We wanted to state that John Arnold assaulted us, and it hurt us and humiliated us."

[PREVIOUS STORY: Ethics case reopened against John Arnold]

In early April, the commission voted 4-1 to find Arnold guilty of violating the ethics code. The panel fell short of the five votes needed to punish the former lawmaker.

Chairman George Troutman asserted the panel had never closed the case and was authorized to re-hear the case Wednesday.

Seven members -- including three who were absent from the April hearing -- came to Wednesday's meeting. Two of the previously absent members were the most vocal about wanting to reconsider the case.

The panel unanimously decided to reopen the case after deliberating behind closed doors. All 11 media outlets covering the hearing, including WAVE 3 News, objected to closing the meeting.

Arnold's attorney, Steve Downey, protested that the commission was only reconsidering its decision after "public outcry" over the mishandling of the case.

"The conclusion they made to retry Mr. Arnold, after completing their trial before, is in error, is not authorized by statute, and will be the subject of an appeal," Downey said afterward.

[PREVIOUS STORY: Ethics Commission member resigning over Arnold case]

After reopening the case, the hearing moved forward as it did in April. Costner choked up as she accused Arnold of grabbing her underwear outside the state Capitol Annex, nearly causing her to fall down some steps.

Downey questioned Costner's credibility, saying that she had changed her story since the first hearing to say that Arnold's inappropriate behavior happened regularly.

Rep. Reggie Meeks, D-Louisville, who didn't testify at the first hearing, told the panel that he was walking with Costner when the underwear incident happened and was surprised to see Arnold's reaction.

"He laughed," Meeks said, repeating it twice more.

Cooper testified that Arnold "smacked me in the behind" as she bent down to restock a refrigerator in the Capitol. Morgan told commission members that Arnold rubbed her back and asked her, "Do you want to come out and play tonight?"

 

Downey's main defense was that Arnold's health had been declining for three or four years, and a doctor diagnosed him with dementia over the winter.

Arnold couldn't have intentionally tried to benefit from his position as a state lawmaker by harassing the women, Downey said, referencing a copy of the legislative ethics laws.

"(Cooper) may have established that he touched her on the behind," he said. "But (investigators) haven't established that he violated this statute, and particularly haven't established that he did it intentionally."

Costner and Cooper said afterward that other lawmakers have harassed staffers, but didn't provide specific examples and predicted the female staffers wouldn't come forward out of a fear of retaliation.

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