Judge pleads not guilty to new sex charges

January 7, 2009 5:32:07 PM PST
A federal judge charged with fondling a court employee and trying to force her into a sexual act pleaded innocent Wednesday to new charges brought by a second woman. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent entered his plea a day after a federal grand jury in Houston added three new charges to the indictment it issued in August that accuses him of making unwanted sexual advances toward his former court case manager.

[ WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT: Read the entire indictment for yourself ]

The new charges -- aggravated sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact and obstruction of justice -- allege Kent tried to force a second female court employee into a sexual act and lied about it to investigators.

"The charges are not true," Dick DeGuerin, Kent's attorney, said after the court hearing, adding he was limited in what he could say because of a gag order in the case. Prosecutors declined to comment.

Kent, the first federal judge charged with sex crimes, said very little during Wednesday's hearing, in stark contrast to his first arraignment in September when he was very vocal and vowed to bring a "horde of witnesses" in his defense.

Edward Prado, a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge brought to Houston to preside over the arraignment, ordered that Kent remain free on his own recognizance. Kent left after the hearing ended with his wife Sarah.

Before he was indicted, Kent presided over the federal court in Galveston. Since then, he has been ordered to work out of the federal courthouse in Houston, the same courthouse where he is also a defendant.

Jury selection in Kent's trial is still set to begin Jan. 26.

Wednesday's hearing was closed for nearly an hour at the request of prosecutors to discuss issues related to Kent's bond. DeGuerin has tried unsuccessfully to have the discussion in open court. "I thought the public ought to know what's going on in the case," DeGuerin said after the hearing.

Information about the case has been limited to what's said in open court and written in court motions because of the gag order, issued by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, a Florida jurist appointed to preside over the trial.

After several media organizations, including The Associated Press, objected to the order, Vinson made minor changes, but still kept it in place.

If convicted, Kent faces up to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He is the first federal judge to be indicted on any charges in the last 18 years.

Kent initially faced two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse following a U.S. Justice Department investigation into complaints by case manager Cathy McBroom.

McBroom accused the judge of physical sexual harassment over a four-year period starting in 2003 when he was the only federal judge in Galveston, an island beach town 50 miles southeast of Houston.

The new charges accuse Kent on one or more occasions between January 2004 and January 2005 of trying to cause an unnamed former court employee to engage in a sexual act at the U.S. Post Office and federal courthouse in Galveston. The superseding indictment accuses Kent of trying to force her into a sexual act.

In addition to the two new sex charges, Kent is facing an obstruction of justice charge.

McBroom's accusations were first investigated by the Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

McBroom has said the alleged harassment ended in March 2007, when the judge pulled up her blouse and bra and tried to force her to perform oral sex.

The Associated Press does not normally name alleged victims of sexual abuse, but McBroom's attorney and her family have used her name in publicly discussing the case.

As part of the council's investigation of McBroom's claims, an investigative committee of the judicial council met with Kent in June 2007 and asked him whether he had engaged in unwanted sexual contact with McBroom and other individuals.

The superseding indictment accuses Kent of saying he only tried to kiss the second court employee when he actually "engaged in repeated unwanted sexual assaults."

The judicial council suspended Kent in September 2007 for four months with pay but didn't detail the allegations against him.

Kent was transferred to Houston last year as part of his punishment by the judicial council. McBroom was also relocated to Houston after reporting her allegations.

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