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Commission votes to remove NKY judge Dawn Gentry from the bench

Defense vows to appeal
Posted at 12:25 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 21:02:47-04

KENTON COUNTY, Ky. — A four-day misconduct hearing that included testimony about drinking and sex in the courthouse ended with a Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission voting to remove Kenton County judge Dawn Gentry from the bench Monday.

The commission found the former family court judge guilty of 10 of 12 charges. Among them, the commission found that Gentry allowed staff to store and consume alcohol in court offices, hired people because she was involved in relationships with them and engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior.

Jeff Lawson, Gentry’s attorney, said the decision to remove her from the bench is "anti-democratic" and that he will appeal the decision.

“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.

The commission found that Gentry hired Stephen Penrose because she was in a personal relationship with him. Gentry terminated Meredith Smith by forcing her to resign to create a job for Penrose, court documents said.

Gentry engaged in inappropriate behavior with Penrose; he sent her photos of his genitals, crude jokes and at least one romantic message. Gentry also engaged in “simulated sexual activity” with Penrose in a courthouse office during work hours.

Gentry engaged in the misconduct related to a 2018 campaign, according to court documents. Gentry coerced members of her Guardian Ad Litem panel to donate to her campaign and utilized court staff to work on her campaign during work hours, court documents said.

In November 2018, Gentry retaliated against attorney Mike Hummel for failing to make the maximum monetary donation to her campaign, according to court documents.

Here’s how the commission voted:

  1. Coercion to donate to her judicial campaign - Guilty
  2. Retaliation for not supporting campaign - Guilty
  3. Approved inaccurate timesheets - Guilty
  4. Retaliation against school liaison officers - Guilty
  5. Held improper conferences that were not on the record - Not guilty
  6. Engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior - Guilty
  7. Hired Penrose based on their relationship - Guilty
  8. Appointed friends to “Permanent Custody Roster”; did not hire based on merit - Guilty
  9. Failed to be honest with the commission - Guilty
  10. Second charge of failure to be honest with commission - Guilty
  11. Retaliation against someone who cooperated in her investigation - Guilty
  12. Did not disclose a personal relationship on the record - Not guilty

Although Gentry had been accused of drinking in the courthouse, the commission found that was not proven by clear and convincing evidence.

The order notes that none of the charges against Gentry affected her rulings or impacted people involved in any cases.

On that basis, Lawson said removal from the bench should require impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors – and that should be up to voters to decide.

“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," Lawson said.

Conduct commission chair Jimmy Shaffer wouldn't speak on camera and said the order speaks for itself.