A single dissenting vote cleared former state Rep. John Arnold of wrongdoing Tuesday as far as the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission is concerned. But on official business days where only five members of the nine-member body show up, a single vote is all it takes.
The Strugis Democrat was accused of sexually harassing and assaulting three Legislative Research Commission employees. Arnold's lawyer contended that his client's behavior was a result of dementia and other effects of advanced age.
The LEC voted 4-1 to convict Arnold, but Elmer George's lone vote against conviction let Arnold off the hook, sparking a firestorm of criticism.
“One nuance I think that’s escaped people is, I think the one member did not say that the former legislator didn’t commit the acts,” said LEC executive director Anthony Wilhoit. “He voted no because he felt that we didn’t have jurisdiction because the legislator had resigned, because it had been too long. He thought we had to do this within a year, was his belief, and he also thought it didn’t fit within our statute.”
Ethics Commission members are appointed by House and Senate leadership and the LRC. Five votes constitutes a quorum for the body, but three members were on vacation for the hearing. Wilhoit said a ninth position on the panel is vacant because the LRC has ignored repeated requests to fill it in recent years.
"It’s hard to get a quorum this time of year," Wilhoit said. "We have so many members who are retired people and they tend to go south in January, February, March and so forth.”
Indeed, one member of the commission who wasn’t present for Tuesday’s hearing – Norma Scott of Madisonville – was reached for comment at a Florida telephone number. Scott didn’t want to comment on the practices of the LEC, but did say she was “happy” with Tuesday’s result.
If convicted Arnold would have been subject to a public reprimand and a fine. There is an ongoing civil case against Arnold.