- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s legislative leaders have reached a settlement with three state workers who filed sexual harassment lawsuits involving Democratic lawmakers, and taxpayers will likely have to pay the bill.

Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper say they were touched inappropriately by former Democratic state Rep. John Arnold. Nicole Cusic said state Rep. Will Coursey retaliated against her once she complained about his inappropriate behavior toward others. All three sued the Legislative Ethics Commission for not doing enough to protect them.

Their attorney, Thomas Clay, said the case has been resolved after a mediation hearing Monday. He declined to elaborate. Republican Senate President Robert Stivers confirmed the settlement.

“The basic framework or pathway forward to a resolution, I believe is in place,” Stivers said. “A dollar figure has been proposed. There is some language about drafting settlement documents are out there, but other than that, until it gets … I think it would be premature … for me to make comment on it.”

Any settlement agreement must first be approved by the Legislative Research Commission. The commission consists of 16 lawmakers, eight Republicans and eight Democrats.

The settlement effectively ends the longstanding lawsuit, which had threatened to engulf the 2015 governor’s race. Democratic State Rep. Sannie Overly is one of several lawmakers Clay wanted to question under oath about Arnold’s behavior. Overly, who is the running mate of Democratic nominee for governor Jack Conway, had asked a judge to seal her testimony for fear it would be taken out of context for political reasons.

Costner is a former aide to House Majority Whip Johnny Bell. Cooper still works for Bell, and Cusic is a nonpartisan employee in the state Senate. Bell fired Costner in January shortly after his colleagues elected him to replace state Rep. Tommy Thompson as majority whip. Costner then added Bell to the lawsuit. Attempts to reach Costner were unsuccessful.

“Like any other mediation, I don’t think anybody was overjoyed,” Clay said. “The claims were resolved to everybody’s mutual satisfaction.”

Legislative Research Commission interim director Marcia Seiler referred questions to the commission’s attorney, Leslie Vose. Vose said the settlement will be made public, but first it must be drafted and approved by the commission. She was not sure how long that would take, but said she expected it to take at least 30 days.

Arnold, the former state representative accused of the harassment, has denied the allegations. He resigned from the state House of Representatives shortly after the allegations surfaced from the three women. The Legislative Branch Ethics Commission fined him $3,000 for violating state ethics laws by using his position as a public official to violate the public trust.

Arnold has appealed that ruling in state court. His attorney, Steve Downey, argued that Arnold has shown early signs of dementia. Attempts to reach Downey on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

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