Kentucky Judge Faces Misconduct Charges Over Accusations Of Sex And Alcohol At Court

Dec 12, 2019
Originally published on December 11, 2019 5:43 pm

A family court judge in Kentucky is facing numerous accusations of professional and sexual misconduct, as state authorities say Kenton County Judge Dawn Gentry coerced colleagues to support her election campaign, made inappropriate advances toward an attorney and had sex in a courthouse office.

Kentucky's Judicial Conduct Commission is preparing to hold a disciplinary hearing about the formal charges against Gentry. There are no immediate plans for impeachment proceedings against her in Kentucky's upcoming legislative session, according to state Rep. Adam Koenig — but he adds, "It is an option that we need consider, in my view."

"This needs to be taken very seriously," says Koenig, whose district includes part of Kenton County. Calling the allegations against Gentry "extremely troubling," Koenig says they "reflect an abuse of power, among other issues."

Gentry has denied nearly all the misconduct charges against her and continues to work as a judge on the Kenton County Family Court, which is based in Covington, Ky., just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The case drew wide interest after the Judicial Conduct Commission released documents related to the formal proceedings against the judge.

Those documents detail a raft of accusations against Gentry. She is alleged to have:

  • Coerced attorneys to make maximum donations to her 2018 election campaign.
  • Used court staff to work on her campaign during work hours — and retaliated against those who didn't support her campaign.
  • Drank alcohol in the courthouse that she permitted staff to store and consume in court offices.
  • Appointed an attorney to her court's staff in exchange for political support from the attorney's husband — the county attorney general.

And the panel says, "On one occasion, when you brought your children to work with you, your child witnessed a confidential proceeding and recognized the child involved in the proceeding, violating the confidentiality of proceedings in a family court case."


The Kenton County Justice Center in Covington, Ky., in 2017.
Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

There are also a number of salacious allegations, as the judicial commission says Gentry fired a woman on her staff so she could hire a former pastor, Stephen Penrose, "because you were engaged in a personal sexual relationship with him, not on the basis of merit."

In addition to their other alleged relationships, Gentry and Penrose were in a rock band together called South of Cincy.

The Kentucky panel says Gentry also "made unwelcomed sexual advances" toward attorney Katherine Schulz — who worked as an advocate for children at the court — and that the judge retaliated when those advances weren't reciprocated.

In addition to engaging in inappropriate behavior at the courthouse and on Snapchat, the judicial commission says Gentry also had sex with Penrose and her secretary, Laura Aubrey, while they were at work.

"You also engaged in sexual activity with Mr. Penrose and Ms. Aubrey in a courthouse office, during work hours," the commission says in its filing. The panel also says Gentry, Penrose and Aubrey left the courthouse together "on numerous occasions," leaving her family court office unstaffed.

Gentry, a Republican who recently concluded a divorce, won election to the family court bench in 2018. In doing so, she retained the seat to which she'd been appointed by then-Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin in 2016, when the spot was vacant.

Details about the misconduct charges against Gentry were first reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. In her formal reply to the charges, she denies having a sexual relationship with Penrose or Aubrey, and the judge says she did not make any inappropriate advances toward Schulz.

In her answer to the judicial panel, Gentry did acknowledge that an inappropriate joke was sent on Snapchat, and she also acknowledged that the children of staff had been present during a proceeding.

"This judge has jurisdiction over all family court issues in Kenton County, a county of over 160,000," Koenig told NPR. "We cannot allow someone engaging in this behavior, if true, to remain on the bench."

The Kentucky panel says Gentry approved inaccurate time sheets and allowed Penrose "to spend work hours playing his guitar and singing in his office," disrupting other employees.

If Gentry is impeached, she would become one of only a handful of public officials who have faced that censure in Kentucky's history. Citing legislative records, the Enquirer says the last time a judge was impeached in the state was in 1916; that judge was not convicted of the charges he faced.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.