Hearing date set for circuit clerk case

Published 12:17 pm Thursday, January 18, 2024

By Abigail Roberts

Correspondent

STANFORD – A final evidentiary hearing for Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Dwight Hopkins, who was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, has been scheduled for Feb. 27, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

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The hearing will be held beginning Feb. 27 at the Lincoln County Judicial Center and four days have been allotted for the entire hearing. It is open to the public.

According to Kentucky Supreme Court documents, 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 provided the Chief Justice with written findings and conclusions, along with a Workplace Investigation Report. The investigative report was then provided to the Circuit Court Clerks Conduct Commission which found 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 was invited to return to work after completing certain conditions.

Hopkins responded through counsel denying all allegations and requested a public hearing.

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

Details on the hearing

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.

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.

A Kentucky Supreme Court order approving and adopting Jan. 2 recommended order of Special Commissioner details the final hearing date, disclosure deadlines ahead of the final hearing, the scope of allowable prehearing discovery and the AOC’s request for protective order.

The AOC requested, and the Kentucky Supreme Court granted, that the AOC’s investigative file only be used in relation to this proceeding.

“The parties and their counsel may provide copies of the contents of the AOC investigative file to their employees, experts and investigators for their use as necessary for the litigation of this proceeding,” the court document states. “However, the parties and their counsel, and their respective employees, experts and investigators are prohibited from providing any physical or electronic copies of any of the contents of the AOC’s investigative file, or any part thereof, to any other person, nor allow any other person to make any physical or electronic copies of any of the contents of the AOC’s investigative file.”

According to the court documents, Assistant Attorneys General Aaron Silletto and Zachary Zimmerer, on behalf of the Special Advocate, took no position on the AOC’s request. Hopkins, through his legal counsel Jason Nemes, objected to the motion.

Melissa Bork, counsel for the AOC, clarified that the AOC does not seek to preclude the parties from having access to the AOC investigative file, only from making copies of the file. The Special Commissioner recommended the court enter a revised protective order.

Additionally, the order states that parties are not authorized to engage in any pretrial discovery in this action, whether by deposition or otherwise, but they may issue subpoenas to secure witness attendance at the evidentiary hearing, as well as subpoenas for third-party documents and records in advance of the hearing.

Each party shall be entitled to confront and cross-examine witnesses.

A final pre-hearing conference will be held Feb. 20 at 10 a.m. via Zoom during which the parties can argue any pretrial motions.

The Feb. 27 evidentiary hearing will be open to the public and Hopkins will remain on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the proceedings.