Bobby Sherman, John Arnold must also pay as part of LRC lawsuit settlement

07/28/2015 12:00 AM

Former Legislative Research Commissioner Director Bobby Sherman and former lawmaker John Arnold will pay undisclosed sums to plaintiffs who recently settled sexual harassment lawsuits against the Legislative Research Commission.

Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who represents the three current and former LRC staffers who sued the agency and others in October 2013, declined to discuss terms with Sherman and Arnold, a former Democratic representative from Sturgis.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Monday that the pair, who both left their positions a month after Yolanda Costner, a former aide in the House majority whip’s office, and Cassaundra Cooper, an aide to House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, made sexual harassment allegations against Arnold public in August 2013, agreed to pay separate amounts as part of their settlements. Costner, Cooper and a legislative secretary in an unrelated matter settled with the LRC for $400,000, Clay announced on Friday.

Costner’s and Cooper’s accusations ultimately led to ethics violations and a $3,000 fine against Arnold in May 2014. He appealed the decision.

“Consistent with the agreement that was reached between the parties regarding that issue, I have no comment,” Clay said when asked about agreements between his clients and Sherman and Arnold.

The LRC’s settlement was approved by at least 11 of 16 members of legislative leadership, Stumbo said. Lexington attorney Leslie Vose, who represented the agency, recommended the agreement based on the expected cost of litigation, he said.

A copy of the settlement was not filed in Franklin Circuit Court on Monday.

Sherman’s decision to return to his office the weekend after he resigned to shred documents provided the “only unfavorable piece of evidence that I know of,” Stumbo said when asked why Sherman paid individually.

“The one piece of evidence that would be presented to the jury was the conduct of Bobby Sherman,” the Prestonsburg Democrat said. “And even though the state police have said we don’t know that there’s any documents that were shredded that pertain to this case, the event itself, I think, justified some doubt as to the outcome.”

Clay has referred to a “culture” at LRC in public statements, but Stumbo disputed that label, saying Arnold was a solo actor who may not have been fully aware of his actions.

Arnold was suffering from dementia at the time of the incidents, an argument his attorney Steve Downey made in defending the former lawmaker before the Legislative Ethics Commission.

“I’m not trying to justify, obviously, what he did, but I don’t think it was as widespread as some would want others to believe,” Stumbo said, noting legislators must now complete sexual harassment training in response to the scandal.

Clay, however, suspects his questioning regarding the agency prompted the cases’ resolutions.

“We were just beginning to get into issues of discovery about the pervasiveness of the conduct that went on at LRC, and I think that was one of the main motivating factors for LRC’s desire to settle this litigation before we undertook any further discovery,” Clay said.

Sherman had been deposed for one day before the sides mediated an agreement, and Clay said he “didn’t get anywhere close to concluding his deposition.”

“If the speaker really believes that this was not as widespread as he’s represented, then let’s open up Mr. Sherman’s deposition for public scrutiny and just find out about that,” he said, adding that he’s unsure whether the despoliation would remain under a court-ordered seal with the litigation resolved.

“I think the public ought to be aware of some of the things that were going on that were revealed through Mr. Sherman’s deposition,” Clay added.

Others involved in the cases did not pay as part of the settlements.

State Rep. Will Coursey, who was accused of retaliation by a secretary who said she was moved from House to Senate offices after complaining of Coursey’s behavior toward others, said as much in a news release Friday. House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, who fired Costner after he took the leadership office, was added as a defendant in the case late but was not involved in the settlement, Stumbo said.

“Any settlement that my accuser may receive as a part of the settlement reached during mediation between the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) and the counsel for my accuser has absolutely nothing to do with me or my actions as a state representative,” Coursey, D-Symsonia, said in an emailed statement on Friday.

“Because her claims had no merit, I refused to negotiate any form of settlement during the mediation process, other than a willingness to withdraw my lawsuit if my accuser dismissed her’s.”

That was part of the settled agreement, but Clay said he would be willing to reopen litigation on the matter to test the merit of his client’s complaint.

“While we’re at it, we can open up the two depositions that Mr. Coursey gave so the public can get a little better idea what it is alleged Mr. Coursey did,” Clay said.

Coursey, along with his statement, claimed that the two women Cusic mentioned in her lawsuit had provided statements saying they did not feel sexually harassed or that the lawmaker had acted inappropriately toward them.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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