Kentucky Judge Removed From Bench, Guilty of 10 Misconduct Charges

The commission overseeing the case found the judge engaged in sexual activity in her courthouse office and did not cooperate with the investigation.

(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

NEWPORT, Ky. (CN) — The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission voted unanimously to remove Kenton County Family Court Judge Dawn Gentry from the bench after it found her guilty Monday of 10 charges stemming from accusations of sexual misconduct and retaliation.

Gentry has been suspended from her position since January, and faced a week-long disciplinary hearing this month after she was accused of campaign finance violations and having a sexual relationship with her former pastor.

Gentry, 39, testified twice during the hearing, and admitted “lines were crossed” when she had staffers work on her reelection campaign during office hours, a violation of Kentucky campaign finance law.

Initially, she strongly denied having a sexual relationship with Stephen Penrose, her former pastor, whom she hired shortly after being appointed to the bench by former Republican Governor Matt Bevin, but eventually softened her stance on their relationship.

The five-member commission released its findings of fact and conclusions of law Monday morning and exonerated Gentry on just two of 12 charges, including that she held pretrial conferences without attorneys involved in the cases, and that she failed to disclose a personal relationship with attorney Debbie Pleatman when Pleatman was involved in family court cases.

“This case,” the commission said, “does not involve one or two isolated occurrences, but instead involves a pattern of misconduct and repeated exercise of extremely poor judgment – on and off the bench – by the respondent that continued for over a year, including after respondent was informed that a complaint was filed with the commission against her.”

Gentry and Penrose also played in a band together, and were accused of asking an attorney in the family court system to have a threesome, an accusation the judge also denied.

Penrose was subpoenaed to testify in front of the commission but failed to appear after his attorney claimed there was a “miscommunication” about the date of his appearance.

Despite being unavailable to testify, Penrose loomed over the proceedings and was a focal point of the commission’s investigation.

Gentry’s attorney, Todd Lewis, compared Penrose to Rasputin – adviser to Russian Czar Nicholas II – and said he “infected” Gentry’s office.

The commission gave little weight to Gentry’s testimony regarding her alleged sexual relationship with Penrose, and unanimously found that she not only fired an employee to create a job for Penrose, but also engaged in sexual activity with Penrose and her secretary at work.

“This romantic relationship with Mr. Penrose,” the order states, “included him sending her photographs of his genitals, crude jokes, and at least one romantic message, and engaging in simulated sexual activity with Mr. Penrose and Ms. Aubrey in a courthouse office, during work hours.”

Bryan Beauman, attorney for the commission, called witnesses throughout the five-day hearing who described Gentry as a vindictive person who wanted absolute control of her court.

Beauman brought crushed beer cans, shredded documents, and an empty bottle of Fireball whiskey recovered from Gentry’s office into the courtroom as evidence of the type of atmosphere she promoted during her time on the bench.

The commission cited that physical evidence – as well as the testimony of several courthouse cleaning personnel – to find Gentry guilty of several judicial conduct violations, including Rule 2.1, which “requires that the duties of a judicial office shall take precedence over all of a judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities.”

The shredded documents – as well as Gentry’s waffling on her relationship with Penrose – were pivotal in the commission’s finding that Gentry failed to be “candid and honest” with the investigation.

“Respondent,” the commission said, “admitted to receiving from Mr. Penrose photographs of his genitals, which respondent saved and kept in a hidden folder on her cell phone, which was accessible through her child’s cellphone.”

The order continues, “Respondent further admitted that this hidden folder also contained photographs of her genitals, although respondent testified that she did not send these to Mr. Penrose. All of this is contrary to her testimony at the temporary removal hearing [in January] and her responses to the initial inquiries of the commission.”

The commission noted that none of the charges involved Gentry’s rulings from the bench and that its decision is not meant as an indictment of her ability as a judge, but noted that “the lack of any such finding does not excuse or make less serious [her] numerous instances of judicial misconduct.”

Gentry has 10 days to appeal the decision, according to Monday’s order.

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