The former top attorney for Kentucky’s community college system, who left after an unsubstantiated sexual harassment allegation and settlement, is running for circuit judge.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting first reported on J. Campbell “Cam” Cantrill III in 2016, when he took a one-year special assignment that paid more than $137,000. The role of “special assistant to the president” of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System was part of a settlement Cantrill signed after a months-long investigation into his workplace conduct.
Cantrill is in a four-way race to serve as circuit judge in Bourbon, Scott and Woodford counties. The seat was left vacant by Paul Isaacs’ retirement in February.
The circumstances surrounding Cantrill’s departure from KCTCS has not generated much buzz in what has been a sleepy race for circuit judge. None of the other candidates would comment on Cantrill’s candidacy for this story.
Cantrill signed a non-disclosure agreement when he accepted the settlement, so he said he can’t discuss anything that led up to his departure from the community college system. But he said it shouldn’t be a concern for voters.
“I wouldn’t even dream of running for circuit court as judge if there had been anything improper or unethical done,” said Cantrill. “I wouldn’t in good conscience ask someone to vote for me if there was any dark past.”
‘Unprofessional and disrespectful’
In February 2016, Cantrill was put on leave while KCTCS investigated “multiple reports” that he violated agency rules around harassment, responsible use of I.T. and ethical values and principles. KCTCS hired an outside law firm to investigate its own general counsel.
KCTCS told KyCIR that the reports were all verbal, and the agency kept no written record of any of them. KCTCS declined to comment for this story.
A few months after Cantrill was put on leave, Keith Moorman of law firm Frost Brown Todd determined that no employees had seen Cantrill engage in any inappropriate touching, or make any inappropriate romantic or sexual comments. Cantrill did show a female employee a video, and was “suggestive and dismissive in a way which caused the female subordinate to feel uncomfortable and intimidated.”
Moorman’s report didn’t detail the nature of the allegations against Cantrill.
“An independent investigation found that nothing improper or unethical had been done, so there’s absolutely no cause for concern,” Cantrill said when reached by phone.
But Moorman’s report found that the legal office at KCTCS was an otherwise toxic environment under Cantrill’s supervision. Employees believed others were out to get them, undermine them or freeze them out, according to the lawyer’s findings, and Cantrill himself used coarse and dismissive language.
“Cantrill was the leader of the office and should be held accountable for not recognizing and effectively addressing the issues causing the tension and dissatisfaction” in the office, Moorman wrote.
Some of Cantrill’s behavior, wrote Moorman, “could certainly be seen as unprofessional and disrespectful, particularly coming from the general counsel of a public institution.”
Cantrill was reinstated after the investigation, but through a settlement, moved out of the general counsel’s office. He became the “Special Assistant to the President for Policy Review and Revision,” where he worked directly under the president and no longer managed employees.
It was a newly created, one-year assignment in which Cantrill kept his $137,000 general counsel salary. Cantrill agreed to never seek employment with KCTCS again when the year was over.
Past performance problems
Cantrill spent nearly 15 years in the agency’s legal office, starting as a staff attorney in 2004 and quickly rising through the ranks to general counsel by 2008. Nearly every year, he received positive performance reviews and merit bonuses.
But in 2006, then-General Counsel Monica McFarlin put Cantrill on a performance improvement plan for attendance, work performance and documentation and insubordination.
“In order to improve his performance, Cam needs to show a commitment to improve and excel in his current position,” McFarlin wrote. “There are many days where Cam does not even put in a 7.5 hour day. This position requires more time and dedication to detail than Cam is currently investing.”
McFarlin declined to comment for this story.
Cantrill appealed the evaluation, citing his two years of positive performance reviews and writing, “It is patently illogical to believe that my work quality and quantity could have so severely deteriorated in this short a period of time, to merit the low score and pejorative comments to which I have now been subjected.”
KCTCS President Michael McCall denied the appeal, and chastised Cantrill for his tone, which “others might reasonably characterize as discourteous, unprofessional and examples of poor judgment.”
“I don’t really think this is worth talking about,” said Cantrill. “That was a very crazy time that I had very little to do with.”
By 2008, McFarlin had left. McCall promoted Cantrill to general counsel.
Little attention on judge race
Prior to coming to KCTCS, Cantrill actually held the job he’s now in the running for.
He was appointed by Gov. Paul Patton to serve as circuit judge when the 2nd division of the 14th circuit court was created in 1999.
Cantrill served one year before losing a primary race to Paul Isaacs, who went on to hold the seat for nearly 20 years. Cantrill garnered only 27 percent of the vote — not enough to beat Isaacs, who got 40 percent.
But in a field of four candidates, that could be enough to give him the seat this time around.
Cantrill is running against Brian Privett, who was appointed to the seat in an interim role by Bevin; Assistant Attorney General Perry Ryan; and lawyer Jimmy Brannon. Previtt said in a statement that he had no comment on the other candidates. Ryan and Brannon, reached by phone, each said they didn’t know anything about Cantrill and declined to comment further.
Cantrill said he also had “nothing bad to say” about his opponents.
Contact reporter Eleanor Klibanoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814.6544.