Testimony Continues in Kentucky Judge’s Misconduct Hearing

Kentucky Judge Dawn Gentry faces 12 counts of judicial misconduct. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

NEWPORT, Ky. (CN) — A key witness was absent from proceedings in the judicial misconduct hearing of Judge Dawn Gentry, who is accused of campaign violations and having sex at work, but several others have provided significant and sometimes salacious details to the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission throughout the week. 

Gentry, a Kenton County Family Court Judge appointed by former Republican Governor Matt Bevin to fill a vacancy, faces 12 charges of misconduct and was suspended from her position in January.

The five-day hearing began on Monday and included testimony from Gentry herself, who is accused of retaliating against attorneys and employees who refused to support her reelection campaign and engaging in sexual activity in her chambers.

A significant portion of the allegations against Gentry also involve Stephen Penrose, a former pastor who played in a cover band with the judge and was given a job shortly after she was appointed to the bench.

Gentry and Penrose allegedly had sex in the judge’s chambers and propositioned family court attorney Katherine Schultz to engage in a threesome, but Gentry denied those allegations during her testimony.

Despite being served with a subpoena to testify, Penrose failed to appear earlier in the week.

On Thursday, commission attorney Bryan Beauman explained to chairman Michael Sullivan that he had been contacted by Penrose’s attorney, who claimed there was a “miscommunication” about when he would be called to testify.

Beauman said Penrose’s attorney claimed his client had been “deathly ill” in the past several days and most likely would not have been able to testify even if he had been contacted by the court.

No bench warrant or other enforcement action had been taken against Penrose as of Thursday morning, according to Beauman.

Penrose was described as an “overbearing” presence during testimony from courthouse employees earlier in the week, and he allegedly sent nude photos of himself to Gentry, who admitted keeping the photos in a folder on her cell phone.

Attorney Debbie Pleatman testified Thursday morning about her relationships with Gentry and Schultz, who testified earlier in the week.

Pleatman was asked by Gentry’s attorney Todd Lewis about the “H.A.G.s,” a group of friends that included Gentry, and whether this group exercised control over legal proceedings or the judge’s reelection campaign.

An acronym for “Happily Aging Gracefully,” Pleatman described the HAGs as a group of friends that is “being blown out of proportion” by the commission.

“It’s just a silly name we call ourselves,” the attorney said. “We’re not the New York mafia or Michael Corleone.”

“[Were the HAGs] a secret society that controlled the courthouse?” Lewis asked.

“No, it’s just a group of friends,” Pleatman said.

Pleatman was also asked about her appointment to a position with the family court by Gentry that allowed her to earn money by representing individuals who had been named temporary custodians of minors.

The attorney said she saw it as “a way to give back to the system,” and not as a favor from Gentry after she had provided help on the judge’s reelection campaign.

“I saw it more as a favor for the court,” she told Lewis.

Lewis shifted his questioning to Gentry’s relationship with Schulz, who testified earlier in the week that she attends weekly therapy sessions as a result of the judge’s retaliation.

Pleatman described Schulz as “high-strung,” and said she worked “almost to the point of overkill” on Gentry’s campaign.

“In Kat’s eyes,” she said, “the moon rose and the sun set with Judge Gentry.”

According to Pleatman, things changed when Gentry discovered that Schulz had discussed a sealed affidavit filed during the course of the judge’s divorce proceedings.

Schulz became despondent when Gentry refused to communicate with her, according to Pleatman, and after a meeting in Pleatman’s office during which Schulz cried hysterically, she eventually resigned from her position in Gentry’s family court.

Lewis asked Pleatman if she would describe her interactions prior to Schulz’s resignation as intimidating or threatening, to which the attorney answered no.

She also told Lewis she was not asked by Gentry to meet with Schulz or convey any messages to her and was simply acting out of concern for her friend.

Earlier in the week, several courthouse employees testified they heard moaning and “strange music” coming from Gentry’s chambers while the judge and Penrose were inside, but that was disputed on Wednesday by Gentry’s secretary.

Laura Aubrey told the commission during her testimony the moaning was an admittedly unprofessional prank that has “haunted” her since the investigation into Gentry began.

“I will tell you,” Aubrey testified, “there were two occasions when the rumors got so ridiculous that, yes, we may have been laughing and kidding around and basically said, ‘they’re going to talk, let’s give them something to talk about.’”

Aubrey also denied that she witnessed drinking in Gentry’s chambers, despite the introduction of crushed beer cans and an empty bottle of Fireball whiskey into evidence earlier in the week.

The containers were allegedly recovered from Gentry’s trash.

The hearing is scheduled to conclude on Friday, and is being conducted by the six-member Judicial Conduct Commission at the Campbell County Courthouse in northern Kentucky.

According to its website, the commission is composed of “one representative and one alternate from District Court, Circuit Court, and the Kentucky Court of Appeals, each chosen by a majority vote of their respective courts; one member of the Kentucky Bar Association appointed by its governing body; and two citizen representatives appointed by the governor who are neither judges nor attorneys.”

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