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Family Court Judge Dawn Gentry submits answers to complaint filed with KY Judicial Conduct Commission

NKyTribune staff

The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission has begun an investigation into the conduct of Dawn M. Gentry, Family Court Judge 16th Judicial Circuit, Family Division 5. 

The investigation is in response to a formal complaint.

Judge Gentry (file photo)

There have been public comments from some of those identified in the complaint about the allegations against Judge Gentry, while she has chosen not to comment.

With that in mind, the Northern Kentucky Tribune has chosen to limit its reporting to the formal allegations against Judge Gentry and the answers submitted on her behalf by those representing her in this matter. 

It is important to recognize that while there are a large number of issues identified in this complaint, there has been no finding of fact in the matter at this point.

There are accompanying documents included for this complaint and the answer, which can be viewed in its entirety here. 

Editor’s Note:  The answer filed by attorneys representing Judge Gentry is referred to simply as “Answer” in subsequent references. The term “she” refers to Judge Gentry, unless otherwise noted. GAL is an abbreviation for Guardian ad Litem.


Notice is hereby given of the initiation of formal proceedings under Rule 4.180 of the Rules of the Supreme Court. At the times set out in this Notice, you were Family Court Judge for Kentucky’s 16th Judicial Circuit located in Kenton County.

While serving as Family Court Judge for Kenton County—in particular, since being elected to that position in November 2018—you have engaged in a pattern of conduct that constitutes misconduct in office and violates the Code of Judicial Conduct. Any of the Counts described below, on their own, constitute sufficient grounds for disciplinary action. But examined as a whole, the allegations in this Notice demonstrate a pattern of misconduct in office. As a result, the Commission has determined formal proceedings and charges are warranted.

Count I – Coercion to Participate in Judicial Campaign

During your campaign for Family Court Judge in Kenton County, while you were sitting on the bench as an appointee, you engaged in the following conduct related to your 2018 campaign for election to your current judicial office:

1. You coerced members of your GAL panel to donate the maximum amount to your campaign and to use personal time to engage in campaigning on your behalf.

2. You required your GAL panel members to serve on the finance committee for your campaign.

3. While in court, you solicited an attorney to put up a campaign sign.

4. You utilized court staff to work on your campaign during work hours. This conduct included, but is not necessarily limited to, having your staff attorney place and deliver campaign signs and having your case management specialist/mediator write thank-you notes for the campaign and publicly hold a campaign sign on Election Day. You also took steps to conceal this conduct.

5. You appointed attorney Delana Sanders to your GAL panel in exchange her husband’s agreement to support your campaign. At the time, just months before the election, there was not an opening on your GAL panel. You also had your staff attorney research whether you could add an additional panel member so that you could appoint Ms. Sanders.


She never asked anyone for money for her campaign. She did ask many people including members of her GAL panel to help with the campaign.

She did not require members of her GAL panel to serve on her finance committee. Some did, along with other attorneys and individuals.

She does not recall asking an attorney in court to put up a yard sign.

She did not intentionally use staff to work on her campaign during work hours. Delivery of yard signs and/or writing of thank you notes was supposed to be done on personal time. Staff did hold signs on election days from 7 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m., which was during their four hours off for voting time allowed by AOC.

She did not appoint Delana Sanders to her GAL panel in exchange for her husband’s support. There is no set number of people on the panel. Ms. Sanders was well qualified. Her staff attorney did research the issue as to limits on panel.

Count II – Retaliation for Failure to Support Judicial Campaign

During your campaign or after your election as Family Court Judge in Kenton County in November 2018, you engaged in the following conduct:

1. During your campaign, you retaliated against Meredith Smith for not sufficiently supporting your campaign.

2. You retaliated against attorney Mike Hummel for failing to make the maximum monetary donation to your campaign and declining to campaign on your behalf by removing Mr. Hummel from the GAL panel.

3. You retaliated against attorneys who did not support your campaign by delaying hearing dates for their cases.

4. You retaliated against school liaison officer Kelly Blevins for supporting your opponent in the election.


She did not retaliate against Meredith Smith for not helping with the campaign. Ms. Smith informed her earlier she intended to resign. Ms. Smith informed Judge Gentry that she needed to practice law to get reciprocity in Ohio and needed to make more money. After the election she did ask her when she planned to resign so there could be a smooth transition.

She did not retaliate against Mike Hummel. As she previously informed the commission, Mr. Hummel’s performance was subpar (missing court dates, which caused unnecessary delays).

She did not retaliate against attorneys who did not support her by delaying dates. Her secretary handles setting all dates.

She did not retaliate against Kelly Blevins for not supporting her. 

Count III –Facilities & Timesheet Falsification

During your time in office, you engaged in the following conduct:

1. You filled out and approved a false timesheet for Meredith Smith.

2. You have on numerous occasions left the courthouse with Mr. Penrose and Ms. Aubrey during regular court hours, leaving the office without any staff coverage.

3. You knowingly approved inaccurate timesheets for Mr. Penrose and Ms. Aubrey by approving timesheets that you knew did not accurately reflect the hours those employees worked.

4. 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.

5. You permitted Mr. Penrose to spend work hours playing his guitar and singing in his office, disrupting other court employees during the workday.

6. You permitted staff to store and consume alcoholic beverages in court offices and at times consumed alcoholic beverages in the courthouse.


She does not fill out time sheets. She treated her staff like professionals and they kept track of their own time. She signed the time sheet, if they certify that they worked the time reported. She has changed this procedure.

Yes, she, her secretary her case specialist, and her staff attorney used to go out to lunch together leaving the office unattended. She has changed this procedure now and the office is always staffed during working hours.

She admits that she allowed staff to work somewhat of a flexible schedule as long as they worked their 37.5 hours per week. this was to avoid compensatory time to overtime. Now 7.5 hours per day, if they leave earlier come in late, they take comp time or vacation time.

As previously admitted to the commission she brought her children and let staff bring children to the office in emergencies. A staff member’s child did see a confidential proceeding, while she was on the bench. This is no longer allowed. She and her staff all must make other arrangements for their children.

Mr. Penrose did play guitar on occasion and she did not realize it was a distraction. There is no longer guitar playing in her office.

She did not know staff was storing or consuming alcohol at work. Now she has a policy against storing or consuming alcohol at work.

Count IV – Retaliation Against School Employees

1. You directed Kelly Blevins and other school liaison officers to file school dependency, neglect, and abuse cases only once per month and to only file certain petitions as truancy cases rather than dependency, neglect, and abuse cases. When Ms. Blevins followed her employer’s instructions regarding how to file such cases, you retaliated against her.

2. Following these actions, you refused to recuse yourself from Ms. Blevins’ cases, despite having previously expressed personal animosity toward Ms. Blevins.


She did not retaliate against Ms. Blevins. She admits, she asked her to file a certain petition at a certain time. She thought that would be more efficient for the court and the school system. She met with school officials several times to try to work it out and see if changes should be made so she could follow the law.

She had not been asked to disqualify or recuse herself in Ms. Blevins(‘) cases. She has no personal animosity toward Ms. Blevins.

Count V – Ex Parte Communications with GAL Panel Members

You have on multiple occasions held pretrial conferences in dependency, neglect, and abuse cases with the members of your GAL panel to which private attorneys representing parties in those cases are not invited. Substantive decisions are made during these conferences, which are not held on the record.


She denies having held pre-trial conferences without all parties being present in person or by counsel.

Count VI –Harassment and Retaliation Against Katherine Schulz

1. You engaged in inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances toward Ms. Schulz.

2. After you made unwelcomed sexual advances toward Ms. Schulz, you sent another attorney on your GAL panel to speak with Ms. Schulz, accusing her of gossiping about you, as well as taking GAL assignments in Boone County. This conduct was reasonably interpreted as warning Ms. Schulz to remain quiet regarding sexual advances.

3. Following these events, you refused to recuse yourself from cases when Ms. Schulz represented one of the parties.

4. You engaged in Snapchat conversations with members of your GAL panel and Mr. Penrose, some of which were sexual in nature.


She denies she engaged in inappropriate or unwanted sexual advances toward Ms. Schulz.

No sexual advances. She denies sending anyone to talk to Ms. Schulz about gossiping about her regarding something that did not happen. She did tell Ms. Schulz she would rather she not take GAL assignments in Boone County.

She did not recuse herself from Ms. Schulz’s case because the motion to recuse was filed in the wrong case.

She can only think of one inappropriate joke that was sent on Snapchat by Mr. Penrose, she cannot control what someone puts on (S)napchat. She did not respond. As was previously reported to the commission, she has not been on Snapchat since shortly after the election.

Count VII – Inappropriate Hiring and Relationship with Mr. Penrose

1. You hired Stephen Penrose because you were engaged in a personal sexual relationship with him, not on the basis of merit. You terminated Meredith Smith by forcing her to resign to create a job opening for Mr. Penrose.

2. You engaged in inappropriate workplace behavior with Mr. Penrose. You also engaged in sexual activity with Mr. Penrose and Ms. Aubrey in a courthouse office, during work hours.

3. You improperly delegated judicial functions to Mr. Penrose.


She DENIES HAVING A SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH MR. PENROSE. Mr. Penrose was qualified for the job having come from the same job in another county. As to Ms. Smith, please see count II #1


She denies delegating judicial functions to Mr. Penrose. In his capacity as mediator and case specialist, he helps parties with paperwork in D.N.A. and domestic violence cases.

Count VIII – Hiring and Appointing Court Staff Not Based on Merit

1. You appointed GAL panel members not based on merit and assigned cases to them before they had any GAL training.

2. You have appointed personal friends who supported you in your campaign to the “Permanent Custody Roster” to represent individuals seeking de facto custodian status without requiring those individuals to come to court to receive appointments. On some occasions, you have passed out these individuals’ business cards.


She denies appointing members to the GAL panel who were not qualified. All members of the panel have GAL training.

She admits that she appointed acquaintances to the permanent custody roster. Almost all attorneys who practice in this county are her acquaintances. She denies that campaign support was any consideration. They do not need to come to court for appointments. They had already been approved and parties had already met the qualifiertionss for state paid representing. So she gives litigants their cards and instructed them to contact the attorney. It was not a referral to a private attorney.

Count IX – Failure to be Candid and Honest with the Commission

You failed to be candid and honest with the Commission in a previous inquiry regarding the appointment of Ms. Sanders and the firing of Ms. Smith and Mr. Hummel, as well as about the quality of Mr. Hummel’s work on the GAL panel.


She denies she has been less that candid with the commission. (*As to Ms. Smith see Exhibit#2 her resignation and text.)

*Exhibit #2 is included among the documents available at the link included above.

A hearing date is expected to be set in the next few weeks.

Contact the Northern Kentucky Tribune at news@nkytrib.com

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One Comment

  1. Dean Knolls says:

    Oh, sweetheart, don’t you know they probably taped it ? You are toast !

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