The Richmond Register

February 18, 2014

Arnold attorney subpoenas lawmakers for ethics hearing

By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — The attorney representing a former lawmaker accused of sexually harassing legislative staff has subpoenaed several lawmakers in advance of a Legislative Ethics Commission hearing next week.

According to House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, Bowling Green attorney Steven Downey subpoenaed “a whole bunch of them.”

Stumbo and at least one other member of House Democratic leadership were served subpoenas requiring them to appear next week at a Legislative Ethics Commission meeting considering charges against former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis.

During an August 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 General Assembly seat 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.

At press time, Downey had not returned messages left with his assistant at his law office.

Stumbo said he is considering invoking the constitutional immunity for lawmakers when the General Assembly is in session.

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 the Ethics Commission hearing could linger throughout the day causing several lawmakers to be absent from that day’s legislative proceedings. That, he said, is what Section 43 of the constitution seeks to prevent.

Otherwise, Stumbo said, nothing would prevent a partisan judge or attorney from subpoenaing several members of one chamber to affect a scheduled vote.

House Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, also confirmed she received a subpoena. She and Stumbo said they had not been questioned by Downey before they were served the subpoenas. Neither would name any other lawmaker who was served.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he had not been served but added, “I understand there might be one floating around out there.”

The Senate President and House Speaker chair the 16-member governing arm of the General Assembly, the Legislative Research Commission, which also employs some 400 or so legislative staff.

Stivers, like Stumbo is an attorney. But he said he thinks he and other lawmakers can be compelled to appear at the hearing next Tuesday.

Several other lawmakers asked by CNHI said they had not been served with a subpoena, at least as of late Tuesday afternoon. Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, wouldn’t confirm or deny if he had.

Coursey was sued by a fourth LRC employee who claimed Coursey had her transferred to another position after she complained about his treatment of legislative interns. Coursey has denied the charge.

Interim LRC Director Marcia Seiler said she had not received a subpoena. Seiler took over on an interim basis from Robert “Bobby” Sherman who retired following an internal LRC investigation of the allegations 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.