Former Juvenile Court Magistrate Says Gay Marriage Is "Nothing You Put In Air Quotes"

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A former magistrate at Juvenile Court, who claims she was fired by Judge Rob Philyaw because she is openly gay, said Wednesday that gay marriage "is nothing you put in air quotes."

She referred to County Attorney Rheubin Taylor asking her about her ceremony in marrying another woman and raising his hands to form quote marks.

Elizabeth Gentzler is suing Hamilton County, Judge Philyaw and Court Administrator Sam Mairs in the courtroom of Judge Travis McDonough.

Attorney Stuart James said the plaintiff side is set to be concluded on Thursday, and the defense will begin. However, Judge McDonough said there will be no court on Friday and then there will be a recess for two weeks or more while he handles another trial.

A jury of five men and three women is hearing the case.

Ms. Gentzler was asked by County Attorney Taylor if there are other gays at Juvenile Court, and she said, "There may be." She said they would be "closeted."

She said she was open about her relationship with another woman and invited several magistrates to their civil ceremony. She said at least two - and possibly three - attended.

She was an intake supervisor at the time, and she said she did not tell her staff. However, she said they "started asking questions when they saw rings on my fingers."

Ms. Gentzler said becoming married to another gay person "is life changing."

Asked if she is "proud of who you are," she said, "Absolutely."

She made almost $80,000 a year at the time she was fired by Judge Philyaw just after he had won election to an eight-year term in 2014.

Ms. Gentzler said she tried to get another job with the county because she was just six months short of becoming vested in the retirement system. She finally got on with state Probation and is a JAG attorney with the U.S. Army.

She said she makes about $10,000 per year in the JAG position and made $39,246 with the state in 2016.

Ms. Gentzler said after Judge Philyaw came into the post she wrote him a page about herself and at the bottom mentioned "I had a partner named Jen."

She said he was stand-offish toward her and sometimes hostile. She said often he left her out of functions that others in the office were invited to.

Ms. Gentzler also said Mr. Mairs was sometimes hostile toward her and made joking comments about gays. She said the air conditioner went out in her courtroom on a Monday and still was not on by Wednesday. She said she went to the court administrator and he told her, "We only have to provide you a place to work. It doesn't have to be a comfortable place."

As to allegations that the new judge did not have time for her, County Attorney Taylor said he was wrapping up his law practice, getting to know his new job, and also campaigning for election.

The plaintiff's wife, Jen (who has adopted the Gentzler name), said she grew up in Chattanooga and graduated from Tyner High School and UTC.

She said at about age 15 or 16 "I realized I was different." However, she did not tell her parents and sister until she was 29. She said they have been very supportive.

She told the jury, "At that point, people didn't like gay people and felt they were going to hell." She said, "I didn't want to get hurt. It was nerve-wracking."

Jen said she appears in looks like a straight person and "flies under the radar." However, she said Elizabeth Gentzler dresses and has an appearance so that it is more obvious.

She was asked, "What's it like being a gay person in Chattanooga?" She replied, "It's a little better than it was." But she said she still worries about getting threats and wonders when she is at a restaurant "if someone will spit in my food."

The witness said she first met Elizabeth Gentzler on Dec. 13, 2004, at the place where she was working as a legal assistant. She said she opened the door for her "and I just looked at her and fell in love."

She said they saw each other some when they both worked at the same place, but much more so when Elizabeth Gentzler started her own law practice.

She said being a magistrate was a "dream job" for Ms. Gentzler.

The witness told of going to several functions at the court, and she said she brought baked goods. She said former Judge Suzanne Bailey "loved me," noting she would make low-cholesterol goodies for her.

At the time at Juvenile Court, "I felt very welcome. No one looked at me funny," she said. 

 

 



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