By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — State lawmakers approved a $115,000 contract Tuesday with a Lexington law firm to represent the Legislative Research Commission in lawsuits stemming from a sexual harassment scandal.
The legislature’s Government Contract Review Committee unanimously approved the contract for the law firm of Landurm and Shouse, but not before Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, questioned its size and why legislative attorneys were not used.
The contract, which runs from Oct. 9 to June 30, is for LRC representation in two lawsuits filed by three female legislative staffers.
One lawsuit, filed Oct. 1 by Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper, named as defendants former state Democratic Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis, the state, the LRC and House Speaker Greg Stumbo in his official capacity.
The two women allege that state officials failed to protect them after they complained in February that Arnold inappropriately touched them and made lewd and vulgar comments to them numerous times over several years.
Arnold has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the claims by the women are barred by the statute of limitations. His motion is to be heard Nov. 18.
Arnold has denied the harassment allegations and has resigned from the legislature.
Thomas Clay, an attorney for the women, has said there is no problem with the statute of limitations.
Another female legislative staffer, Nicole Cusic, sued state Rep. Will Coursey, D-Smysonia, the LRC and former LRC director Bobby Sherman on Oct. 1. She claimed she was retaliated against when she was moved to a different office after she complained to Coursey about what she said was his inappropriate behavior with a legislative intern.
Coursey has denied the allegation. He has said Cusic’s suit failed to describe an employment action that was adverse to her and was filed after the statute of limitations expired.
Laura Hendrix, general counsel for the LRC, said the contract’s amount was difficult to estimate because it is uncertain how long counsel will be needed to provide representation in two lawsuits.
She also said no in-house attorney was equipped to handle such litigation.
McDaniel also asked if the LRC could recoup any of the money for the contract if the courts find that the LRC had done nothing wrong.
Hendrix said she did not know the answer to that question.
Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, informed the committee that the contract came at the request of House Speaker Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.
In other business, the contract review committee:
*Approved four contracts for the office of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, which provides an online marketplace for health insurance companies. It is part of the new federal health care.
Three Republicans on the committee voted against two of the four contracts that involved federal money to provide enrollment, education and outreach services for the program.
Those two contracts totaled $2.1 million.
The other two contracts dealt with the end this year of the Kentucky Access Program, a statewide health plan which offered medical coverage to highly at-risk Kentuckians. Those two, which mostly involved state funds, were worth $3.35 million.
*Approved three contracts worth $10,000 each for the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to hire non-state hearing officers in the investigation of three former state employees in the administration of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer.
Earlier this year the ethics commission said three former state agriculture employees –Bruce Harper, George “Doug” Begley and Chris Parsons – agreed to pay a total of $16,000 in fines to settle ethics charges.
John Steffen, executive director of the ethics commission, said Tuesday investigations are pending against former agriculture employees William E. Mobley, Steven Mobley and Stephanie L. Sandmann.
His agency, Steffen said, usually hires hearing officers from the attorney general’s office but that office also investigated Farmer and his hiring practices while he was state agriculture commissioner.
Farmer pleaded guilty in September to two counts of misappropriating government resources while overseeing the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. He remains free pending Jan. 14 sentencing.
*Approved a $123,000 contract with Lofthouse Enterprises, an English marketing company, to promote Kentucky in the United Kingdom and western Europe as a tourism destination.