NEWPORT, Ky. (CN) — A Kentucky family court judge accused of having sex in her chambers and asking an attorney to participate in a threesome admitted she violated campaign finance laws but denied several other allegations during the first day of disciplinary proceedings against her.
Dawn Gentry, 39, who was selected by former Republican Governor Matt Bevin to fill a judicial vacancy on the Kenton County Family Court in 2016 and then won re-election in 2018, faces 12 disciplinary charges and was placed on paid leave in January.
Gentry, who makes $136,900 a year, also faces impeachment at the hands of Kentucky lawmakers.
Monday’s testimony was the start of a week-long hearing conducted by the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission. It was originally scheduled for April until Covid-19 delayed proceedings.
The bulk of the charges against Gentry stem from alleged retaliation against attorneys who refused to donate to her 2018 election campaign, but several focus on her relationship with Stephen Penrose, a former church pastor who was given a job in Gentry’s office shortly after she was appointed by Bevin.
Penrose, who also played with the judge in a cover band called South of Cincy, retired from his position with the family court when the state’s investigation into Gentry became public.
During testimony on Monday, Gentry admitted she had beer and liquor bottles in her chambers and brought her acoustic bass guitar into the office on one occasion.
Bryan Beauman, attorney for the Judicial Conduct Commission, asked Gentry if her office could be described as a “party atmosphere.”
“It could reasonably be perceived as that,” Gentry said.
Despite previous testimony from employees who claimed they heard moaning and grunting coming from Gentry’s office, she denied having a sexual relationship with Penrose.
However, the judge admitted to having nude photos of him on her cell phone.
Beauman detailed the contents of a specific folder on Gentry’s phone that included three pictures of a penis and several pictures of female genitalia.
Gentry explained that the picture of her own genitalia was sent to her aunt, a nurse, when she became concerned about a possible case of hemorrhoids.
Gentry previously filed a motion to exclude “digital sexual material” from the hearing, but that motion was denied by the commission.
The hearing also included allegations from attorney Katherine Schulz, who claimed Gentry kissed her at a South of Cincy band practice and later propositioned her via Snapchat to have a threesome with the judge and Penrose. Gentry denied the allegations.
As for alleged campaign violations, Gentry’s attorney, Jeff Lawson, admitted she allowed her staff to work on her campaign while they were clocked in at the courthouse.
“Judge Gentry did blur the line of campaign work,” he said, when she “allowed employees to do campaign work while they were at the office, which we readily admit violated campaign law.”
Among the charges against Gentry are coercion to participate in a judicial campaign, retaliation for failure to participate in a judicial campaign, facilities and timesheet falsification, inappropriate hiring and relationship with Stephen Penrose, and failure to be candid and honest with the commission.
Several of the charges related to her judicial campaign deal with a guardian ad litem panel that included members appointed by Gentry to deal with children who face the threat of abuse.
Gentry allegedly threatened several members with removal from the panel if they refused to volunteer or donate to her campaign, and told the members in an email that they would volunteer or be “voluntold.”
During the January hearing, Gentry described the email as a joke. “I was trying to make light of it,” she told the commission, “and it was kind of a joke and that I wanted your help.”
According to court documents, the commission plans to call at least 31 witnesses during the week-long hearing, while Gentry’s witness list includes 44 people.
The hearing is being conducted at the Campbell County courthouse, where officials have limited courtroom capacity to 20 people and required masks for all attendees to conform with social distancing guidelines.