This blog occasionally departs from the workers' compensation specific and focuses upon the law. Other times, it narrows the focus to those we entrust with the law. Recent Examples are The New Miranda WarningandConferences and Consequences. The long and short of it is simply that judges are entrusted with tremendous responsibility, but do not always live up to the calling. We must all remember the public's trust in us, embodied in the various Codes of Judicial Conduct: "A Judge Shall Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in all of the Judge's Activities," Canon 2.
In December 2019, a Kentucky judge was accused, leading to an investigation of that state's Judicial Conduct Commission, according to 13WBKO (ABC affiliate in Bowling Green). The headline was eye-catching: Kentucky judge accused of making sexual advances, favoritism. According to the report, nine charges were levied including "made inappropriate sexual advances, traded jobs for donations to her campaign, used a legal panel for campaign work, retaliated against employees and attorneys, kept false time sheets, allowed guitars to be played in the office, and her employees to consume alcohol." (Cincinatti.com, the Cincinnati Enquirer, offers further detail on the allegations). In fairness, the judge "denies the accusations." According to NBC News, she particularly denies the allegations about sexual congress in the courthouse.
TheCourier Journal(likely in Louisville) suggested that the allegations might lead to "an extraordinarily rare occurrence," impeachment. It noted that the time required for an investigation by the Commission might instead lead the legislature to undertake that action. If it occurred, "she would be the first judge (in Kentucky) to be impeached in more than a century." This December 2019 article leaves the impression that an investigation was predicted to take as long as three months. Then came COVID-19 and the disruptions of process and proceedings that entails.
Blue Lives Matter (www.defensemaven.io) reported in late January 2020 that the judge had been "suspended with pay pending a hearing on numerous accusations of professional and personal misconduct." A National Public Radio story earlier in January reportedly also noted that suspension. That was said to ban her from the "Courthouse until after her hearing on April 20." Ultimately, resolution required eight months instead. Based upon the approximately $135,000 annual salary, the Judge was on paid leave valued at about $90,000 over the eight months required for the proceedings of the Commission.
The Northern Kentucky Tribune reported in February that a legislative committee had taken up impeachment proceedings. Cincinnati.com (the Cincinnati Enquirer) reported in mid-April that the impeachment proceedings had been discontinued as they ran out of time. The article describes that the committee charged with that investigation was unable to complete its work before the legislative session ended in mid-April.
The judge expressed, through counsel, being "particularly disappointed that her opportunity to vindicate herself before the General Assembly was lost this year." Her counsel committed to doing that instead now before the Conduct Commission. The attorney expressed concern that the "complaints against her have created a significant public misimpression." Explaining the legislative result, an elected official said "The inquiry is another casualty of the COVID-19 restrictions."
In late August, "The misconduct commission voted 5-0 to remove Gentry," according to the Enquirer. It concluded "her guilty on 10 of 12 charges," which supports that more charges were added to the nine initially reported by 13WBKO. Her lawyer was quoted indicating her intent to seek an appellate review of the outcome. He stated that "Gentry expected to be punished but that the commission went too far." He reportedly likened the removal from office to "the equivalent of the judicial death penalty."
There were allegations of retaliation in the workplace. The Enquirer reported "that attorney Katherine Schulz, resigned after she said Gentry retaliated against her." Ms. Schulz said that "she rebuffed sexual propositions from the judge" and faced the judge's "wrath." Ms. Schulz alleged that she witnessed the judge treat people differently because of their political support for the judge or because of their attendance at "performances by the judge's band."
The story recounts that the Judge filed a bar complaint against Ms. Shulz following her cooperation with the Judicial Commission, leading the Commission to file another charge against the judge. The Commission decision concludes that the bar complaint "was in retaliation" against someone the Judge knew was cooperating with the Commission. The decision notes that the Judge "further admitted and conceded that she should not have filed the Bar Complaint." Is it possible that complaint contributed to the "significant public misimpression."
The Commission's conclusions were published in a thirty-eight page decision. It concludes with "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." The Enquirer article notes specifically that not all of the original charges against the Judge were sufficiently proven. However, the cumulative effect of those that were proven convinced the Commission. These included (material is quoted from the decision)
coerced members of her GAL panel to donate to her campaign and use personal time to engage in campaigning on her behalf
utilized court staff to work on your campaign during work hours
approved a false timesheet for Meredith Smith
knowingly approved inaccurate timesheets for Mr. Penrose and Ms. Aubrey
When Ms. Blevins followed her employer's instructions regarding how to file such cases, you retaliated against her
refused to recuse yourself from Ms. Blevins' cases, despite having previously expressed personal animosity
engaged in inappropriate sexual advances toward Ms. Schulz
refused to recuse yourself from cases when Ms. Schulz represented one of the parties
engaged in Snapchat conversations with members of your GAL panel and Mr. Penrose, some of which were sexual in nature
hired Stephen Penrose not based on merit but because she was engaged in a personal relationship with him
Respondent denied actual sexual activity with staff occurring in Chambers during office hours but did admit to “simulated” sexual activity with staff.
failed to be candid and honest with the Commission in a previous inquiry
failed to cooperate and be candid and honest with the Commission during your testimony
It is a story with salacious overtones (including apparently revealing photographs "kept in a hidden folder on her cell phone, which was accessible through her child's cellphone"), and allegations of self-interest, coercion, intimidation, and more. The long decision of the Commission is not the clearest reading, but conveys various conclusions about the specifics of alleged behavior. The Commission concluded ultimately that Judge Gentry should no longer serve. It is a cautionary tale that perhaps every judge should read. It will be interesting to read the outcome of her appellate challenge to its conclusions
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