Ethics

Judge who kept photo of employee's genitals on her phone should be ousted, commission finds

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Kentucky courthouse seal

Photo from the Kentucky Court of Justice.

A Kentucky judge should be removed from office for a pattern of misconduct that included firing an employee so she could hire her former pastor, with whom she had a romantic relationship, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission has found.

The judge, Dawn Gentry of Kenton County, Kentucky, was accused of saving a photo of the former pastor’s genitals in a hidden folder of her cellphone, as well as a romantic message from him.

The commission issued findings of fact and its removal recommendation Monday, following a weeklong disciplinary hearing, report the Cincinnati Enquirer, Courthouse News Service and WKYT.

Gentry had hired the former pastor as a case specialist. He did not testify at the disciplinary hearing; his lawyer said there was a miscommunication about the date of his appearance, according to Courthouse News Service.

Gentry’s lawyer said she will appeal, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The commission said the 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,” even after an ethics complaint was filed against her.

Other commission findings include:

• Gentry engaged in inappropriate sexual advances to a lawyer on a guardian ad litem panel and then failed to recuse herself in the lawyer’s cases. The commission said, however, it was not proven that the sexual advances were unwelcome.

• Gentry had been accused of having courthouse sex with the former pastor and her secretary, but Gentry testified that the sexual noises heard coming from the former pastor’s office were part of a prank in which she twice participated.

• Gentry removed a lawyer from a guardian ad litem panel because he did not support her judicial campaign as much as she wanted.

• Gentry had staff members work on her campaign during office hours on paid time.

• Gentry permitted employees to consume alcohol in chambers, a finding bolstered by testimony of cleaning personnel who found Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller Lite beer cans, as well as a Fireball bottle.

• Gentry filed a bar complaint against a lawyer who cooperated with the judicial commission investigation.

• Gentry failed to be candid and honest with the commission in its investigation.

None of the ethics charges against Gentry involved criticism of rulings that ultimately affected parties before her, the commission said. Indeed, Gentry presented several witnesses to testify about her ability as a competent judge.

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