Kentucky court clerk denies unwelcome touching, sexual assault but admits outburst

An embattled Kentucky court official acknowledged acting unprofessionally in a confrontation with another judicial-center employee, but denied touching employees in unwelcome ways.

Joseph “JS” Flynn, the elected circuit clerk in Pulaski County, also denied a former employee’s claim that he sexually assaulted her.

“She has a real problem with lying,” Flynn said of the woman.

Flynn faces accusations that include creating a hostile work environment, harassment and failing to perform his duties with courtesy and respect.

The Kentucky Attorney General’s Office presented evidence against him this week before Jean Chenault Logue, a former circuit judge who will make a recommendation on whether to remove Flynn from office.

Aaron Silletto and Marc Manley, who are prosecuting the case, said there had only been one circuit clerk in Kentucky removed from office through the process, about 30 years ago.

Flynn has been on paid leave since late March 2022 as the case progressed.

Some current and former employees in Flynn’s office testified this week that he engaged in angry outbursts toward employees and cursed; inappropriately touched employees; and made sexual comments in the workplace, sometimes about female customers.

One former employee said Flynn ran his hand up under her dress and touched her buttocks in a judicial-center office.

She also said that on another occasion, Flynn pulled her from the front seat of a Chevrolet Tahoe into the back seat with him, then pushed up her shirt, kissed her chest, and exposed himself and tried to force her to touch him.

Another employee was driving the vehicle. Flynn only let her go when the employee who was driving yelled at him, the woman testified.

The Herald-Leader is not identifying the woman who said she was the victim of the attack because the paper does not identify the victims of alleged sexual assaults.

Flynn testified in his own defense Thursday and Friday, flatly denying that he put his hand under the employee’s dress.

Ashley Haste, a support specialist for district judges at the Pulaski County Judicial Center, and security officer Junior Fortenberry confirmed they saw the incident.

Flynn said Haste lied because she is friends with the other woman, and said he and Fortenberry had had a personal disagreement, suggesting that’s why the security officer falsely backed the woman’s story.

Haste and Fortenberry had said they were telling the truth in their testimony.

As to the alleged assault in the vehicle, Flynn strongly denied that happened.

Flynn, 35, said he had metal rods implanted in his back as a teenager to correct a condition called scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

Flynn said as a result he has to be careful about how much weight he lifts and wouldn’t have been physically able to pull the woman from the front seat into the back seat of the SUV.

“There is no way that I can do that,” he said.

The woman who was driving the SUV said she couldn’t see what was happening as she drove but heard the other employee tell Flynn to stop, corroborating that part of her story.

But Flynn and other workers in the clerks office argued the woman who made the allegation manipulated the other women to back her story.

Flynn said anyone who said they heard him talk about his sex life in the office was lying.

He did not deny touching employees’ hair or shoulders but said no one objected, and acknowledged pinching employees, but said that was a prank in which people in the office took part.

Some employees in the office testified they had not seen inappropriate conduct by Flynn; that he did a good job as clerk and cared about serving the public; and that they believe he should be restored to office.

“JS did a helluva job in his office,” said Misty Cundiff, a deputy clerk.

The state Administrative Office of the Courts received complaints about Flynn after an incident in his office on March 22, 2022.

Flynn acknowledged losing his temper after Haste came to his office to get a file and opened the door of a room where he was in a closed-door meeting.

Flynn said he told Haste he would bring her the file later, but got mad after she pushed open the door again and made a comment about him always being behind closed doors and about him not running the judicial center.

Flynn yelled and cursed, telling Haste to “get the f--k out of my office.”

Flynn said Haste and an employee in his office — the one who made the allegation about the sexual assault — provoked him by interrupting the meeting, but that he shouldn’t have lost his cool.

“I should have controlled myself better,” he said. “That was unprofessional what I did.”

Jason Nemes, who represents Flynn with Joe Lambert, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, argued to Logue that it would not be appropriate to remove Flynn from office based on the evidence presented against him.

The suspension Flynn has undergone, along with required anger management training, would be an appropriate way to deal with his outburst toward Haste, which he deeply regrets, Nemes argued.

Silletto said in response that he believed the Attorney General’s Office had presented sufficient reason to show Flynn should be ousted.

As to the claims that people lied about Flynn, Silletto said the credibility of the witnesses will be an issue for Logue to weigh.

Both sides will now have a month to submit written arguments to Logue, and she will then make findings and a recommendation to the Supreme Court on whether to remove Flynn.

It could be mid-July before that happens.