Judge rules House Majority Whip Johnny Bell can be added to LRC lawsuit after firing plaintiff

02/04/2015 05:24 PM

FRANKFORT — A judge has ruled a former Legislative Research Commission staffer can add House Majority Whip Johnny Bell to her harassment lawsuit against the agency after Bell terminated her upon joining House leadership.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate also determined the LRC should provide additional discovery in the case, although potentially sensitive material that may be protected by attorney-client privilege will be reviewed by Wingate.

Leslie Vose, an attorney for the LRC, had argued in a court hearing Monday that Bell, D-Glasgow, should not be added to a lawsuit filed by former LRC employee Yolanda Costner, who had worked in the House Democratic whip’s office until Bell ousted Rep. Tommy Thompson of Owensboro from the position in this year’s leadership elections, because he had no direct knowledge of allegations Costner raised in her complaint.

Costner’s attorney, Thomas Clay, countered that Bell had campaigned on firing Costner if he won the whip’s race and retaliated against her as a whistleblower.

Wingate, in his order, wrote that Costner’s termination and the accusations in her lawsuit are connected and she should be allowed to include Bell as a defendant in the court action.

“There is a reasonable nexus between the series of occurrences that have allegedly taken place,” Wingate said. “Additionally, the issues involved reasonably include common questions of law and facts.”

The judge’s order can be viewed here: 13-CI-01159 Costner v. LRC.pdf

Attorneys for both sides also wrangled over whether the LRC should provide additional material relating to not only the investigations into sexual harassment claims brought by Costner and Cassaundra Cooper, an aide to House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, against former Rep. John Arnold, but also similar inquiries against the Sturgis Democrat.

Costner and Cooper filed a joint lawsuit against Arnold, the LRC and others in December 2013, accusing the agency of mishandling their complaints against Arnold. The former lawmaker has been fined $3,000 and reprimanded by the Legislative Ethics Commission for ethics violations in the matter, a decision Arnold has appealed.

The LRC has not provided a follow-up investigation by employment attorney Cheryl Lewis, who was hired by the agency to evaluate its handling of the matter, because it argues that material falls under attorney-client privilege. What’s more, Vose said no final report exists because Lewis did not compile one.

But Wingate ruled that the agency should provide those records, which will be subject to his review. He ordered the LRC to provide the following items, among others, in the discovery process within 30 days, with the scope limited to five years:

  • Any reports prepared relating to Costner’s and Cooper’s complaints.
  • Descriptions of any sexual harassment or retaliation complaints raised against Arnold.
  • All documents pertaining to LRC investigations involving Arnold.
  • Identities of investigators, witnesses and victims of any sexual harassment inquiries conducted by the LRC.
  • A complete and unredacted copy of the Sept. 4, 2013, LRC meeting where former Director Robert Sherman briefed legislative leaders on how the agency handled Costner’s and Cooper’s sexual harassment complaints.
  • All documents and communications pertaining to Lewis’ follow-up review.
  • Any communications sent or received by House Speaker Greg Stumbo regarding Costner’s and Cooper’s sexual harassment complaints from January 2012 to present.
  • Any communications related to the plaintiffs’ complaints.
  • Any communications related to Sherman’s retirement or his shredding of agency documents before his departure.
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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