NEWPORT, Ky. (CN) — A Kentucky family court judge accused of campaign violations and having sex in her chambers testified in her own defense on Friday before closing arguments in her disciplinary case before the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission.
Kenton County Family Court Judge Dawn Gentry has admitted she allowed employees to campaign while on the clock but denied having a sexual relationship with her former pastor, Stephen Penrose, who was given a job in her office shortly after she was appointed.
Gentry’s testimony in her own defense provided a bookend for the week-long hearing, which began on Monday with her testimony after she was called to the stand by the commission.
Gentry was appointed to her position by former Republican Governor Matt Bevin in 2016 and went on to win reelection. She has been under investigation for nearly a year after accusations of misconduct and retaliation were made against her.
The commission charged the 39-year-old judge with twelve counts of misconduct, including coercion to participate in her judicial campaign, retaliation for failure to support the campaign, timesheet falsification, inappropriate hiring, and two charges for failing to be honest during the commission’s investigation.
She was suspended with pay in January and also faces impeachment.
Although a number of the charges and a large portion of the week’s testimony centered on Penrose — who also played guitar in the band South of Cincy with Gentry — he did not appear to testify.
The former pastor, who allegedly sent nude photos of himself to Gentry, was subpoenaed by the commission but failed to appear and claimed via his attorney that there had been a “miscommunication” about when he was scheduled to testify.
Gentry and Penrose allegedly had sex in the judge’s chambers — an accusation Gentry denied this week — and several courthouse employees testified throughout the hearing that they heard moaning noises and “strange music” coming from the office.
Gentry’s secretary testified on Thursday that the noises were part of a prank designed to get a reaction out of courthouse staffers whom she claimed had been spreading gossip about the judge.
The secretary said the incident has “haunted” her since the investigation began.
On Friday, Gentry described herself and Penrose as “really good friends” and admitted that “lines were crossed,” but again denied having a sexual relationship.
During closing arguments, Gentry’s attorney Todd Lewis compared Penrose to Rasputin — the self-proclaimed holy man who had the ear of Russian Czar Nicholas II — and claimed he “infected” the judge and her office.
Lewis had admitted earlier in the week that his client violated campaign finance laws but told the commission on Friday the lack of “high crimes and misdemeanors” should prevent it from removing Gentry from office.
“We’re talking about overturning the will of the electorate if we’re seriously talking about removing her from office,” Lewis said.
Attorney Katherine Schulz, who worked on a panel of attorneys within the family court system, was also a key witness for the commission.
Schulz testified that Gentry kissed her at one of South of Cincy’s practices and asked her to have a threesome with Penrose. She said the judge gave her the cold shoulder after she rebuffed the advances.
Testimony on Thursday provided by attorney Debbie Pleatman, a friend of Gentry’s, characterized Schulz as a “high-strung” woman who idolized the judge and became distraught when the two had a falling out.
Schulz eventually resigned from her position on the court panel but claimed she was forced out by Gentry, who she says threatened to rule against her if she stayed on.
The hearing was not short on entertainment value, as crushed beer cans and an empty Fireball whiskey bottle were brought into court after allegedly being collected from the trash in Gentry’s chambers.
Commission attorney Bryan Beauman also brought out a large bag of shredded documents recovered from Gentry’s office on Friday and disputed the judge’s claim the paper was simply old docket information.
Beauman lamented the need for a hearing, and said that if Gentry had been forthright at the outset of the investigation, “maybe we wouldn’t have to be here.”
The ultimate decision regarding Gentry’s punishment lies with the conduct commission, a group of attorneys, judges and two citizen representatives that will mull over the testimony and physical evidence to determine the judge’s fate.
The hearing was originally scheduled for April but was pushed back to August because of Covid-19 concerns and took place at the Campbell County Courthouse.