Public hearing set for Lincoln Circuit Clerk case

Published 11:33 am Thursday, January 4, 2024

By Abigail Roberts

Correspondent

STANFORD – An evidentiary hearing for Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Dwight Hopkins, who was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into multiple workplace harassment complaints, will be held at the end of February, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

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Hopkins was elected to office on Nov. 8, 2022.

According to a Kentucky Supreme Court Order to Show Cause, on May 22, 2023, the AOC received seven separate complaints alleging that Hopkins had engaged in unlawful workplace harassment and that his behavior created a hostile work environment for the complainants.

Hopkins was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation and Garrard County Circuit Clerk Dana Hensley has served as Special Circuit Clerk of Lincoln County since May.

The AOC conducted an investigation and on June 15, the then-serving AOC Director Laurie Givens provided the Chief Justice with her written findings and conclusions, along with a Workplace Investigation Report.

“Based upon the facts contained in the report, Director Givens concluded that Hopkins’ conduct ‘constituted discrimination and unlawful workplace harassment, creating a hostile work environment,’” the court document states.

The written findings and conclusions, as well as supporting evidence that was gathered during the investigation, was provided to the Circuit Court Clerks Conduct Commission for further action.

After reviewing the report and a response submitted by Hopkins and his legal counsel, the Commission found that “Hopkins had violated multiple sections of the Circuit Court Clerk Code of Conduct, and recommended a public reprimand and several other remedial disciplinary actions.

Hopkins received a letter from the Chief Justice on Aug. 8 relaying the Commission’s findings and recommendations, as well as offering him a chance to respond.

He responded, through counsel, objecting to the Commission’s recommendations or suggested sanctions, arguing that he should be fully and unconditionally reinstated as the Lincoln County Circuit Clerk.

Hopkins instead requested “the appointment of a Special Advocate prior to any action being taken against him by the Supreme Court.”

The Chief Justice sent Hopkins a draft order imposing a “public reprimand and allowing him to return to work upon completion of certain conditions.”

“Given Hopkins’s previous objection, the Chief Justice offered, alternatively, that Hopkins may choose to have a hearing on the complaint allegations before the full Supreme Court under section 114 (3) of the Kentucky Constitution, noting, however, that this route would expose Hopkins to the possibility of removal from office,” the Show Cause Order states.

Hopkins responded, requesting a public hearing as soon as possible.

The matter was referred to the full Supreme Court, which initiated proceedings to determine if good cause exists to remove Hopkins from his position.

The court has requested the Office of the Attorney General to serve as special advocate in the removal proceedings.

Hopkins’ response

Hopkins was given 20 days to respond to the Show Cause Order, which he did through his legal counsel, attorney Jason Nemes, on Nov. 27.

Nemes argues that no investigation worthy of considering removing an elected official has occurred.

“…especially since Hopkins has heretofore not been given any semblance of due process, including, but not limited to, the ability to cross-examine those who are providing evidence against him,” the response states.

Hopkins’ attorney said his client has done nothing to violate the law or regulations governing his actions as an elected official and is a victim of a political attack.

“As noted above, Hopkins denies each and every allegation made against him,” the response states. “Hopkins has been the target of a political attack orchestrated by the former circuit clerk, who is his former and possible future electoral opponent, who he defeated in an election just a few months prior to his being suspended without any ability to defend himself.”

The Special Advocate must prove by clear and convincing evidence that Hopkins should be removed from office, Nemes argues, as the removal of an elected official overturns an election and the decision of the citizens as to who will serve them in office.

“Here, the authority seeking to remove Hopkins must show by clear and convincing evidence, rather than a mere preponderance of evidence, that Hopkins did what he is accused of doing and that the only proper punishment is his removal from office,” the response states. “…In conclusion, from the beginning Hopkins has consistently denied that allegations against him. He still does. And he looks forward to fully participating in the public hearing that this Court has ordered.”

The hearing

Jim Hannah, Communications Director of the AOC, said as of Dec. 28 he was waiting for an order scheduling the final hearing date to be entered into the record, but the final hearing will take place the last week of February at the Lincoln County Judicial Center.

Retired Circuit Judge Jean Chenault Logue is appointed to serve as Special Commissioner to consider the allegations raised against Hopkins and will oversee the final evidentiary hearing.

“The special advocate and Hopkins shall each be entitled to compel, by issuance of subpoena, witness testimony and the production of documents. Each party shall also be entitled to confront and cross-examine witnesses,” the Order of Reference states.

Logue will make findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations concerning whether good cause exists for the Supreme Court to remove Hopkins based on the evidence presented at the final evidentiary hearing.

The hearing will be open to the public.

Hopkins will remain on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the proceedings.