Judge Philyaw Denies He Did Not Reappoint Magistrate Because She Was Gay

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw told a federal jury on Thursday that the fact Elizabeth Gentzler is openly gay had no part in his decision not to reappoint her as a magistrate.

"Absolutely not. I have a lot of gay friends, family and acquaintances," he said.

However, a court officer at Juvenile Court sided with Ms. Gentzler. Jimmie Cannon said, "Ninety-nine percent of the time he seen her he took off like somebody had farted in his face. It seemed to me like he was afraid her gayness would rub off on him."

Ms. Gentzler is suing the county, Judge Philyaw and Court Administrator Sam Mairs.

The case will be interrupted for two weeks or more while Judge Travis McDonough handles other matters in court. He told members of the eight-member jury they will be notified when the trial can resume.

Judge Philyaw said Ms. Gentzler "was very condescending - even to me." He said she "appears to think she's smarter than everybody else." He said she suffered from "over-confidence and over-importance." 

He said she resisted moving to a new technology system at the court and was the last one to implement it.

The judge said Ms. Gentzler was installed as magistrate when she was just 31, which he said may have been too soon. He said, "I don't believe she is suited to be a magistrate."

Asked who had complained about her at the court, he said Juvenile Court Clerk Gary Behler "certainly expressed concerns" as well as others.

Judge Philyaw said on occasions when court had finished there would be cutting up and laughing coming from Courtroom 2, disturbing other offices. He also said it was reported that Ms. Gentzler had "used the F word" on a couple of occasions during these times.

Attorney Stuart James noted that Magistrate Bruce Owens in a deposition said at magistrate get-togethers sometimes there were "bawdy jokes and comments that rose to the level of inappropriateness."

Judge Philyaw said of the transfer of Ms. Gentzler from the main court building to child support on Main Street, "I really thought it was a good move for her." He said, "I thought she would excel there." However, he said there were continuing problems, including when she came back to the 3rd Street main court and parked in the public lot because she said her pass code had been deleted. Judge Philyaw said it angered him because he said she could have easily paged someone to open the security parking lot for her.

He said he did not give her a reason for her dismissal eight days after winning an eight-year term because he did not want to get into a "confrontational" situation with her.

Judge Philyaw acknowledged that he wrote a favorable recommendation for a lawyer job for Ms. Gentzler after she had been dismissed from Juvenile Court. He said she could help a law firm, but "she should not be wearing a black robe."

He said he rarely met individually with the magistrates, but preferred to address them as a group during weekly sessions.

Mr. Cannon, who at one time was the court officer for Ms. Gentzler, said of her, "She's openly gay. She looks like a 12-year-old kid and she is not scared of it. She embraces it. She was the only one (at the court) who's openly gay."

He said he felt as a magistrate "she was outstanding."

The witness added, "It's not up to me to judge her lifestyle. That's up to the man upstairs."

Mr. Cannon, who is now a civil process server for the court and has suffered three injuries that have left him hobbled, said Ms. Gentzler was well liked at the court. However, after she told Judge Philyaw in a memo about her that she had a female partner, "things got cold at the courthouse" for her.

He said when Mr. Mairs told the staff that she was not coming back, he said, "It wasn't because she was gay." 

Jen Gentzler, wife of the plaintiff, returned to the stand, saying, "There is a lot of subtle bigotry (gay couples) have to deal with. After they find out, they won't look you in the eye. They don't touch you anymore. They don't want to shake hands anymore or sit with you in the lunch room."

She said, "I try to be an upbeat person, but that hurts."

Jen said "Liz" was "absolutely thrilled" when she was chosen by former Judge Suzanne Bailey as a magistrate. "She took to it like a duck to water."

"She would study the law book line by line twice a year."

Jen said when Judge Bailey unexpectedly retired early and Judge Philyaw came into office that Liz reported that "he wasn't as welcoming as you would have hoped. He was a little stand-offish.' The witness said when she heard that, "I got very scared."

She said when Ms. Gentzler was sworn in as a magistrate she introduced her as her spouse at the ceremony. Jen said, "That made me very happy and proud that she wasn't ashamed of me."

Jen said when she and Ms. Gentzler had a wedding ceremony that Magistrates Misty Harris, Chris Gott and Cathy Clark were among those attending.

The witness said she went to a staff event in Ooltewah and she approached Judge Philyaw. She said, "He had his arms crossed and he wouldn't look at me. It made me feel kind of weird."

Jen said Liz had been happy working under Judge Bailey, but under Judge Philyaw "it changed. I don't know why." She said, "She's not a crier, but sometimes she would cry" including after she said the judge had gone to everyone's office but hers to invite them to an event. She said, "That's very hurtful. Why would someone do that?"

The witness said, "She would be very upset, and I couldn't fix it."

Jen said when she saw on Facebook a large group of staff with Judge Philyaw at a Lookouts game that she was undecided on whether to show it to Liz. However, she decided she would rather be the one to let her know it was another event she was not invited to.

She told of going to court to ride with the others, including Judge Philyaw and Magistrate Troy McDougal, to a reception for members of the Tennessee Supreme Court. She said they looked around and the others had left without them.

She said Liz told her, "I know what's going on here. This person doesn't like me because I'm gay."

Jen said she was with the staff at a conference when Judge Philyaw "went down the line shaking everyone's hand but me."

However, she said the judge did come over and shake her hand as the trial started earlier this week.

Of the notice that she would not be moving from the main court to child support, Jen said, "Quite frankly, it broke her heart. She was angry. She cried all day."

Then when she was told she would not be coming back, she said Liz "cried for days. She went into depression. She didn't enjoy things anymore. She was distant. She was silent."

Jen said Liz signed up for unemployment and began searching for a job. She said the work she got paid much less than she had been making so they had to scrap plans to pay off their house early and take some trips.

She told the jury, "We don't plan things much anymore."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


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