Monday, October 13, 2008

The sad and disgraceful case of Judge Samuel Kent

Here are several related stories about the disgraceful case of indicted federal District Judge Samuel Kent, whose saga of disciplinary woes and sexual abuse allegations I've not followed closely, but which is rightfully garnering national attention as his trial approaches:
Allegations that Kent forced himself on a Galveston courthouse employee - and the inability of the federal judiciary to punish Kent's behavior - have left an increasingly sizable stain on the reputation of the federal judiciary. An account from a columnist at the New Orleans Times Picayune placed the blame for Judge Kent squarely at the doorstep of the 5th Circuit, showing how its Judicial Council, which hears complaints against sitting jurists, downplayed and tried to cover up what amount to allegations of forcible rape:

Welcome to the whacky world of the Fifth Circuit, which chief Appeals Court Judge Edith Jones rules in a style reminiscent of the Queen of Hearts.

Jones is not one of the sisterhood and is, indeed, famous for her hostility to female plaintiffs alleging sexual misconduct in the workplace. So it was fortunate for Kent that Jones was in charge when the Judicial Council considered complaints against him from Cathy McBroom, his former case manager at the Galveston courthouse.

The council did not reveal what those complaints were, but gave Kent a public reprimand for "sexual harassment" and suspended him for four months. The implication seemed to be that his offenses were relatively trivial.

McBroom did not think so, and went public with the complaint she had filed against Kent.

She said his unwelcome intentions spanned a four-year period and that he had used force in attempting to make her perform oral sex.

Her attorney asked the Judicial Council to give him a longer suspension and call for his impeachment, but no dice, and Kent returned to the bench. But by then the feds had launched an investigation, which culminated last month with his indictment on two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of aggravated sexual abuse.

Allegations of financial improprieties against Kent remain under investigation, according to press reports.

Kent's attorney has claimed that any sexual contact was "enthusiastically consensual."

Whether you believe him, or the grand jury, the Judicial Council's decision makes no sense. Nobody ever accused him of mere harassment.

If Kent committed the alleged acts then he deserves prosecution, without question. But he should have been removed as a judge long before now. Even so, Judge Kent is still sitting on the federal bench today post-indictment, eligible to hear cases. Kent's actions were even more egregious, arguably, than former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Verla Sue Holland, who slept with the District Attorney while he tried cases before her as a district judge, then concealed her adulterous misconduct in a death penalty appeal.

Indeed, those two cases have more in common than just a sexual component. Like the impotent Texas Judicial Conduct Commission, which is supposed to provide oversight for Texas state jurists but in practice does nothing of the sort, mechanisms for holding the federal judiciary accountable appear broken in the 5th Circuit, with the Judicial Council in Kent's case more concerned about protecting their judicial peers than the public. That's a recurring theme when you examine various judicial misconduct cases - it's not just individual judges' bad behavior that's the problem, but also the tendency of their peers to knowingly tolerate it.


Anonymous said...

When a cop gets hit with any sort of charges, they put him on suspension. When school employees get charged, they are suspended, so why is it, a person who decides cases should be allowed to continue with their normal duties?

This dillweed needs to be 'benched' (no pun, seriously) until after his guilt or innocence is revealed.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Back in 1999, my first year out of law school, some of my co-workers defended a major environmental criminal case in front of Judge Kent. He was absolutely terrible. His rulings were all blatantly pro-prosecution to the point of insanity (e.g., he would allow the prosecutors to introduce an exhibit through one of their witnesses and then would sustain objections to the defense attorneys asking that witness questions about the same exhibit). He was well known to be a drunk who would drink hard liquor and smoke cigars back in his chambers. It was common knowledge that law enforcement would follow him home from work to make sure he made it without crashing into someone. Ultimately, after many weeks of trial, both defendants were convicted on all counts. I'm guessing millions were spent on the government and defense side. And what happened to the cases? All convictions were overturned on appeal because during deliberations, when the jury was having some problems reaching a verdict, the judge decided, over the objection of both sides, to have a conversation with the foreperson of the jury in his chambers without any counsel present. This was a blatant violation of very clear US Supreme Court case law.

Needless to say, I am not surprised to hear that the "Honorable" Judge Kent has been in more trouble. These allegations are particularly troubling, and, I remember when I first heard them, I was outraged that the 5th Circuit judicial council had characterized them as "sexual harassment." Of course, it was Judge Edith Jones who famously told an attorney for a sexual harassment plaintiff arguing a case that his client's having had her breasts grabbed by a supervisor didn't seem to rise to the level of a cognizable sexual harassment claim because the supervisor had only done it once and had apologized. And this is a woman who was routinely touted for the Supreme Court during by conservatives during Bush's terms. No thank you!

Anonymous said...

Edith Jones is a miserable tyrant; it's little wonder her priority is protecting judges from scrutiny. She should be impeached right along with Kent.

Anonymous said...

Yet another reason Federal judges should not receive life terms.

Anonymous said...

And while we are discussing the acts of judges, how about the ethically challenged sweetheart deal Jeanne Meurer created for herself in Travis County. I am surprised this has not gotten more attention.

Anonymous said...

Judge Kent is a verr respectful judge. I live in Galveston and know judge kent. This is just a money hungry women who is lying and wants attention. Judge Kent has done alot for Galveston and if you dont know all the facts dont talk down on him. He is a innocent man.