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Judge Allows Media Outlets to Intervene in Harassment Lawsuit Involving Kentucky Lawmakers

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A Franklin Circuit Court judge on Wednesday granted a motion filed by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and The Courier-Journal to intervene in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Legislative Research Commission.

The media organizations want access to depositions of former Legislative Research Commission director Bobby Sherman and state Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat. (KyCIR and WFPL are both part of Louisville Public Media.)

Judge Thomas Wingate is still considering Overly and Sherman’s requests to have their depositions sealed.

On Wednesday, Wingate signed an order denying requests by Overly and Sherman to have their depositions sealed, but the court soon after update that order and rescinded that decision. "It was brought to Court’s attention that there had been a mistake," Wingate's office said in an email.

Wingate will decide later whether to seal part or all of Sherman and Overly's depositions.

Overly, who is running for lieutenant governor on a slate with Attorney General Jack Conway, is scheduled to be deposed by the plaintiffs' attorney, Thomas Clay. Clay said that he deposed Sherman for five hours last Wednesday.

Clay represents two former legislative staffers who allege they were sexually harassed and assaulted by former state Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis.

Former staffers Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper are suing Arnold, House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, the Legislative Research Commission and its former director, Bobby Sherman.

Overly’s lawyer filed a motion to have the deposition sealed in order to prevent “the embarrassment and annoyance that comes from having ones’ words sampled without context or the opportunity for rebuttal,” as stated in her request for a protective order last week.

Both Overly and Sherman say they want their depositions sealed to prevent Clay from disseminating the transcripts or records to the media.

House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, a Democrat from Glasgow, has recently been added to the lawsuit for firing Costner, who worked in the whip’s office when he was elected to House leadership in January.

Costner alleges that Bell fired her in retaliation for her lawsuit against Arnold, Sherman and the LRC.

Bell’s motion to be dismissed from the case was denied by Wingate, who said in his order that it was "premature at this time to dismiss the claims against Bell."

 

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.