LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A former Kentucky lawmaker accused of sexually harassing Capitol staff members was found guilty on three counts of violating ethics codes. The Legislative Ethics Commission voted five to one Wednesday to fine Democrat John Arnold $3,000.
One of three female staffers testified Arnold "smacked her on the behind" as another said he made a sexual advance on her. A third woman told the panel Arnold grabbed her underwear and a sitting state lawmaker testified he witnessed it.
It was the second hearing on the matter in two months.
Commissioners voted 4-1 at the first hearing to convict Arnold, but state law required the commission have at least five votes to take action. Arnold's attorney Steve Downey told commissioners Arnold has been diagnosed with dementia.
From Frankfort to Louisville, news of the vindication for the women traveled fast to Attorney Thomas Clay who's representing two of the three, Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper. "We got a different outcome today huh?" Clay asked. The women answered, "Yes we did, yes we did!" The first outcome was a public outcry when the commission clearly bungled the case in April when not enough members showed up to punish Arnold.
During testimony Wednesday Costner told the panel of Arnold, "I felt someone grab under my jacket and pull my pants and my underwear."
Clay said, "The path that these ladies had to take to get where they are today required a great deal of courage." According to the women, the harassment began in 2009 and lasted until 2013. And while sexual harassment cases always include one person in a power position, going up against a public figure takes it to a different level.
Costner asked reporters after the proceeding Wednesday, "How would you feel if this happened to your wife or your sister?"
Arnold must pay $3,000 in fines, but the victim's don't get the money and because this was an administrative proceeding and Wednesday's decision won't likely be allowed in the civil case.
We asked Clay if a settlement with the Legislative Research Commission, also named in the suit, would be likely. "The LRC was there today," Clay said, "I'm sure their attorney was there and I'm sure they're paying attention."
For now, the women move forward with their lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court against Arnold and the Legislative Research Commission as other lawmakers have indicated there's a culture in Frankfort that has tolerated harassment.
"Now that this proceeding is behind us, we can pick up the pace on the litigation," Clay said.
Clay hopes to get deposition dates from the LRC and the Legislative leadership about what they knew and when they knew it.
Clay ended his phone conversation with his two clients by saying, "We'll it's been a long road and I think somebody finally got the message that they needed to do something." The two women agreed saying, "They got the message alright."
Clay said he's seeking a fair compensation for what the women have endured. Arnold's attorney said his client will appeal the commission's decision.
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