Kentucky judge, 39, ‘ruled against attorneys who rejected her sexual advances,’ Judicial commission said
Judge Dawn Gentry is accused of firing a staffer, then replaced her with a lover
The family court judge was removed from the bench Monday after being found guilty on 10 the 12 misconduct charges
Kenton County Family Court Judge Dawn Gentry was removed on Monday
The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission found Gentry guilty of 10 out of 12 misconduct charges brought against her in January
Gentry was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, letting staff drink alcohol in her offices and hiring people because she had relationships with them
She was also accused of giving preferential treatment to attorneys if they appeased her sexual demands and threatening to rule against them if they didn’t
Katherine Schulz, an attorney, testified that Gentry engaged in retaliatory behavior after the judge had kissed her in a bathroom and propositioned her for a threesome, which she refused
Schulz claimed thereafter Gentry ruled against her in the courtroom, until she quit
Stephen Penrose, a former pastor and alleged lover who the judge employed as a case specialist, is mentioned frequently in the claims of Gentry’s misconduct
Despite being subpoenaed by the court Sunday, he has yet to appear at the hearing
Gentry’s attorney, Jeff Lawson, called the decision to remove his client from the bench ‘anti-democratic’ and vowed to appeal
An embattled Kentucky judge accused of having sex in her courthouse and letting staff drink alcohol at the office has been removed from the bench.
The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission [KJCC] on Monday voted unanimously to remove Kenton County Family Court Judge Dawn Gentry after she was found guilty on 10 of 12 misconduct charges brought against her in January.
The 12 charge case of misconduct basically accused the judge of using sex, coercion and retaliation in the conduct of official business.
A remarkable four-day misconduct hearing saw witnesses testify that judge Gentry engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior in and out of the office, has allowed her staff to store and consume alcohol in court offices and hired people because she was involved in relationships with them.
The judge was also accused of giving preferential treatment to attorneys if they appeased her sexual demands and threatening to rule against those who rejected her advances.
Gentry’s attorney, Jeff Lawson, called the decision to remove his client from the bench ‘anti-democratic’ and vowed to appeal the ruling.
‘What we’re looking at now is an appeal where the Supreme Court of Kentucky will determine what the circumstances are for a judge to receive what is, in essence, the judicial death penalty,’ Lawson said.
One of the most explosive allegations presented at the misconduct hearing was that Gentry had a threesome with her case specialist Stephen Penrose and secretary Laura Aubrey.
The KJCC found that Gentry hired Penrose because she was in a personal relationship with him, and that she created the opening for him by forcing another staffer, Meredith Smith, to resign.
Gentry engaged in ‘simulated sexual activity’ with Penrose in a courthouse office during work hours, court documents stated.
The documents detailed how Penrose sent Gentry photos of his genitals, crude jokes and at least one romantic message.
Gentry, was elevated to the bench in 2016 when former Gov Matt Bevin appointed her to fill a vacancy, was also found guilty of engaging in misconduct related to her 2018 campaign for the bench seat.
The commission determined that she had her staff work on the campaign during work hours and and coerced members of her Guardian Ad Litem panel to donate to the campaign.
In November 2018, she retaliated against attorney Mike Hummel when he failed to make the maximum monetary donation to her campaign, the court documents state.
Gentry’s misconduct continued after the KJCC began investigating her, as she was found guilty of two counts for lying to the commission and one count for retaliating against someone who cooperated with the investigation.
The only two counts Gentry was found not guilty on were for holding improper conferences that were not on the record and for failing to disclose a personal relationship on the record.
The commission said there was not enough clear and convincing evidence to prove that Gentry consumed alcohol in the office.
Gentry’s attorney Jeff Lawson argued that her removal should require impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors – and that the voters should be allowed to decide whether she stays or goes, especially since the order to remove her from the bench notes that none of the charges affected her rulings. They did not impact litigants in the cases over which she presided, either.
The family court judge would not have been up for re-election until 2022 after she won a four-year term in 2018.
Ruling in the case against Judge Dawn Aubrey
Coercion to donate to her judicial campaign – Guilty
Retaliation for not supporting campaign – Guilty
Approved inaccurate timesheets – Guilty
Retaliation against school liaison officers – Guilty
Engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior – Guilty
Hired Penrose based on their relationship – Guilty
Appointed friends to ‘Permanent Custody Roster’; did not hire based on merit – Guilty
Failed to be honest with the commission – Guilty
Second charge of failure to be honest with commission – Guilty
Retaliation against someone who cooperated in her investigation – Guilty
Held improper conferences that were not on the record – Not guilty
Did not disclose a personal relationship on the record – Not guilty
Gentry was suspended in January after a complaint against her was filed with the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission.
Gentry, who made $136,900 a year, was suspended with pay back in January after a complaint alleged that she fired an employee to create a case specialist job for Penrose, with whom was in a sexual relationship.
The complaint stated that Gentry and Penrose engaged in sexual activity in the courthouse with the judge’s secretary, Laura Aubrey.
She is also accused of asking Katherine Schulz, an attorney to have a threesome with them.
Gentry’s secretary Laura Aubrey served as a key witness during the misconduct hearing, testifying that her alleged threesome with Gentry and Penrose was ‘just a prank’ to give their colleagues ‘something to talk about’.
The secretary wept on the stand as she attempted to put the alleged rumors to bed on the third day of the hearing on August 13.
Painting a contrasting picture of what life was like in Gentry’s office, Aubrey insisted she didn’t see any drinking of beer, liquor, or the rife sexual misconduct that had been described so liberally by other witnesses in the two days prior.
However, she had become aware in early 2019 of rumors circulating among courthouse workers of a tryst between her, Gentry and Penrose, Aubrey insisted.
‘I will tell you 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 recounted.
The rumored lovers then convened in Penrose’s office and began moving furniture around loudly, with Penrose ‘breathing heavily’ to fool her co-workers into thinking the trio were sexually engaged, the secretary claimed.
Multiple witnesses described hearing moaning, grunting and ‘strange music’ coming from Penrose’s locked office on April 12.
Aubrey told the court that nobody moaned during their purported prank – a claim which led to an awkward exchange with KJCC chairman Michael Sullivan and Aubrey, who attempted to clarify whether Penrose was breathing to attempt to sound like a woman, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
‘When a man breathes heavily, it ought to sound like a man breathing heavily,’ Sullivan said, according to the outlet.
Aubrey clarified that Penrose breathed in a ‘high-pitched’ way.
When quizzed whether staging such a prank in response to the rumors was professional, Aubrey insisted ‘it was not.’
‘It has haunted me,’ a tearful Aubrey said on the stand. ‘[But] It seemed to me laughter was the only thing that could get us through it.’
On the first two days of testimony, courthouse custodians, deputy clerks and numerous other employees testified to observing alcohol containers in Gentry’s chambers, singing and guitar playing, and moaning and grunting coming from the offices.
Schulz, the attorney who claimed she was propositioned by Gentry and Penrose, spent three hours on the stand describing the tumultuous few last months she spent working for the judge on a panel that aims to give free help to children who’re subject to abuse.
Before resigning in May 2019, Schulz claims Gentry propositioned her for a threesome, kissed her in a bathroom and threatened to rule against her in court cases.
‘The courtroom and these cases I love so much, I feel it’s a weapon that was used against me,’ Schulz said. ‘I felt I was not very effective. I felt continued fear.’
Gentry denied making any sexual advances, testifying Monday that Schulz made the allegations up.
‘I admit that I engaged and interacted with Ms. Schulz in an inappropriate manner when she initiated personal contact with me while she was under the influence,’ Gentry said in a legal filing. ‘I also admit that I did not handle the situation appropriately afterwards.’
Schulz claimed that Gentry told her to download Snapchat, through which the judge regularly contacted her.
The attorney says she received a Snapchat message in early 2019, asking her to go to a conference in Louisville and to ‘have sex with Steve [Penrose] and me’.
Schulz said she was wary of angering Gentry, so instead laughed the message off.
On another occasion not long afterwards, Schulz said she found herself in Penrose’s basement with Gentry after a night out of drinking.
Schulz said she found the judge on the bathroom floor of the basement with a nosebleed. When she leaned down to help her, she say’s Gentry lunged at her and began kissing her ‘aggressively’.
‘I kissed her back,’ Schulz clarified, adding that Gentry kept telling her ‘I’m going to rule against you in all of your cases.’
When asked why she thought Gentry would make that threat at that time, Schulz said she wasn’t sure.
After that day, Schulz claims Gentry gave her unfavorable rulings in court cases, cases that involved child abuse and neglect.
Schulz said she believed it stemmed from her criticizing Penrose shortly after the kiss.
The incident reportedly caused Schulz a great deal of anxiety, before she was admitted to the emergency room on May 13, 2019, believing she was having a heart-attack. Two days later she resigned from the panel.
Penrose, a former pastor turned case specialist, was mentioned frequently in the claims of Gentry’s misconduct. He resigned shortly after the investigation was made public.
Despite being subpoenaed by the court, Penrose did not appear at the hearing.
Gentry and Penrose are in a band together, called South of Cinthy. According to Gentry’s ex-husband, they were having an affair during her marriage. Penrose plays the guitar in the band and Gentry plays the bass.
Gentry admitted during the hearing that Penrose sent her nude photos she kept on her folder in her phone.
Yolonda Reis, who works at the Kenton County Clerk’s Office and is in the band with Gentry and Penrose, served as a witness for the defense.
On the stand, Reis described Penrose as ‘overbearing’ and ‘obnoxious’, and said he had no sexual relationship with Gentry.
When asked if she was surprised Penrose had sent Gentry nude pictures, if they weren’t in a sexual relationship, Reis insisted she wasn’t.
‘He was kind of obnoxious like that,’ she said.
‘I think he thought an awful lot of himself.’
Gentry fiercely denied almost every aspect of the charges against her.
Addressing the ruling of the commission, Lawson said, ‘We entrust the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky by the votes that they cast at every election to make decisions on whether or not judges have performed effectively in office or have done things with which they disagree or have done things which they disagree with morally or any other way. And that’s the appropriate process in this case’.
For KJCC Chairman Jimmy Shaffer however, the removal order speaks for itself.
‘This case 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,’ the commission wrote in its decision.
Gentry has 10 days to appeal the decision. In the meantime, a retired judge will handle her case docket.