Judge Samuel Kent was appointed to the bench for life by George Bush in 1990. For almost two decades, he served as the only federal judge in Galveston, Texas where he wielded great authority and “created a culture of fear.”
On Monday, Judge Kent was sentenced to 33 months in prison for obstruction of justice because he sexually harassed court employees and lied about it to judges who investigated his misconduct.
Kent is the first federal judge in history to be indicted in connection with sexual crimes. Here’s the story — and it’s a big one.
Two years ago, Cathy McBroom, Judge Kent’s case manager, filed a sexual harassment complaint against Judge Kent with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. According to the Houston Chronicle:
She said the incident that prompted her to action — though it was not the first time Kent attempted to assault her — came in March 2007 when McBroom was summoned to Kent’s Galveston chambers.
She says the judge, a foot taller and 150 pounds heavier, forced his mouth on her breast and pushed her head toward his crotch with an explicit and obscene oral order. She fled in tears.
The first incident occurred in 2003. At that time, according to the Chronicle:
The judge returned from lunch that day and made a bizarre request for McBroom to show him the court’s exercise room …
He pinned her to the floor, removed her shirt and only allowed her up when she begged and then threatened to scream.
Judge Edith Jones, Chief of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, oversaw the panel of judges that investigated the accusation.
Following the investigation, Judge Kent was reprimanded, suspended for four months without pay, and transferred to Houston.
It turns out the Judge Kent lied to the panel about his sexual advances involving a second employee, his secretary Donna Wilkinson.
According to the NY Times story, Kent told the panel that the extent of his advances towards Wilkerson was one kiss. The indictment said that Kent repeatedly fondled Wilkerson against her will.
Kent eventually admitted to molesting both McBroom and Wilkerson. In a deal with prosecutors in February, Kent plead guilty to obstruction of justice as his trial was scheduled to begin.
In exchange, the government agreed to drop five charges that he had repeatedly groped his secretary and his case manager, touching their genitals and breasts against their will.
The sentencing hearing was on Monday, and both women made statements.The Chroniclereported that Ms.McBroom expressed anger over the fact that Kent attempted to portray her as an enthusiastically consensual and spurned lover:
Being molested and groped by a drunken giant is not my idea of an affair …. I will forever be scarred because of what happened in Galveston.
Wikerson, Kent’s former secretary, said that Kent sexually and psychologically abused her starting her fifth day on the job. She said she believes Kent is “crazy” and she fears for her family’s safety.
Judge Roger Vinson, who sentenced Kent, said that he had received letters from others who feared for their jobs if they went up against Kent. Handing down the sentence, as reported in the Washington Post, Judge Vinson said
Your wrongful conduct is a huge black X, a smear on the legal profession, a stain on the judicial system itself …
In addition to the prison sentence, Kent was ordered to pay a fine of $1000 and $6,550 in restitution as part of the plea agreement.
Kent technically retains a pension for his judgeship, though impeachment proceedings are underway as reported in the Dallas Morning News. Kent’s lawyer said at the hearing that Kent was an alcoholic and that he would undergo treatment for alcohol abuse in prison. He also said that Kent had depression, diabetes, and bipolar disease.
Isn’t it comforting to know that this man has been serving as a United States District Court judge for almost twenty years and that he holds a lifetime position?
Should he keep he pension? Should he be impeached? If this judge doesn’t get impeached, what judge should? For an informative discussion about the issues, see the recent article in the Criminal Law Blog.
I tend to agree with one blogger who said from South Texas who had this to say:
I think Hell would be more appropriate. That’s how Kent made life for who knows how many women for how long.
It’s been reported that Kent wants to retire and go out on medical leave so he can keep his $169,300 salary. In order to qualify for medical disability, Chief Judge Edith Jones must certify it and President Obama must approve it according to the Texas Lawyer.
I don’t see that happening.
The big part about the story to me is this. It is completely deplorable that a federal judge came to work drunk and sexually assaulted his staff. Those words are probably not harsh enough.
It is also completely courageous that these very brave women took him on. Those words are probably an understatement.
What is clear is that their conduct should serve as an inspiration to other victims of harassment as it shows that even the untouchable can be brought to justice.
It should also send a message to those sexual predators in positions of power that no one is above the law.