- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A state judge has temporarily sealed all testimony in a volatile sexual harassment lawsuit that has swelled to include the majority whip of the House of Representatives and the running mate of the likely Democratic nominee for governor.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate issued the ruling Wednesday morning after a 30-minute hearing in Frankfort where an attorney for state Rep. Sannie Overly asked him to permanently seal her deposition, which is scheduled for Monday.

Overly is the running mate of likely Democratic nominee for governor Jack Conway. Her attorney, Anita Britton of Lexington, said testimony taken during depositions is often “far more wide ranging” than it would be at trial. She said if Overly’s testimony were public her words would be “sold out, sampled, taken out of context,” likely for political reasons.

“It is not the court of public opinion, it is a court of justice,” Britton said.

The depositions are part of a lawsuit filed by former state worker Yolanda Costner and current state employee Cassaundra Cooper, who at one time both worked for the Democratic House leadership. They say former Democratic state Rep. John Arnold sexually harassed them multiple times over several years and that the Legislative Research Commission worked to cover it up.

Arnold has denied the allegations. The Legislative Ethics Commission fined Arnold $3,000 last year for violating state ethics laws by using his position as a public official to “violate the public interest.” Arnold is appealing the ruling in circuit court.

But the case has since grown to encompass the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives, a key battleground in Kentucky politics as Republicans are six seats away from a majority. House Majority Whip Johnny Bell was added to the lawsuit earlier this year after he fired Costner, an act Costner said was retaliation for her lawsuit. And Tuesday, attorneys took depositions from three Democratic state representatives: Will Coursey of Symsonia, Linda Belcher of Shepherdsville and Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville.

Clay described the depositions as “contentious.”

“What we have here, your honor, is elected public officials who are being questioned about conduct that happened in the Capitol of this commonwealth,” Thomas Clay, an attorney for Costner and Cooper, told the judge. “What we’re finding is a disturbing pattern of conceal and delay, conceal and delay. That’s what the people who have been the object of our inquiry have done consistently since we filed this lawsuit.”

Wingate appeared to side with Overly, telling Britton he has “a tendency to agree” with her argument. But he said he needs time to “figure out the law” before making a final ruling.

“There are some people that get hurt by these things, OK? And I’m not talking about public officials, I’m talking about other individuals that their names were mentioned in depositions,” Wingate said.

Also scheduled for a deposition is Bobby Sherman, the former director of the Legislative Research Commission. Sherman’s attorney on Wednesday asked the judge to ban lawyers from asking Sherman if he had sexual relationship with another state employee. Additionally, an attorney for Rep. Johnny Bell asked that Bell be removed from the lawsuit.

Wingate said he will consider those requests but did not issue a ruling.

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