Pace quickens for impeaching convicted judge

June 9, 2009 4:15:17 PM PDT
It was the judge who was on trial Tuesday, as the House Judiciary Committee voted on whether or not to move forward with impeachment proceedings against Federal District Court Judge Samuel Kent of the Southern District of Texas. All of the ten committee members present voted in the affirmative. The proceedings will continue Wednesday with a full committee hearing on the issue. Kent was sentenced to prison last month after pleading guilty to charges of obstruction of justice. The judge admitted to sexually assaulting two of his female employees after previously lying about the veracity of such claims to FBI and Department of Justice personnel. As part of his plea bargain, the charges of sexual assault were dropped, yet the obstruction of justice charge remained.

One of Judge Kent's former employees, Donna Wilkerson, claims that Judge Kent committed acts of sexual assault several times a month over the course of approximately two years. Another employee, Cathy McBroom, claims that Judge Kent committed acts of sexual assault against her on one or more occasions between 2003 and 2007. According to the resolution introduced at the House Judiciary Committee hearing today, "Judge Kent sexually assaulted Donna Wilkerson [and Cathy McBroom], by touching [them] in [their] private areas against [their] will and by attempting to cause [them] to engage in a sexual act with him."

Both women, although not at the hearing, had earlier expressed that they endured such abuse for a significant period of time, fearing that they would lose their jobs or suffer retaliation. The judge, who repeatedly reminded Ms. Wilkerson that he had sole hiring and firing power over his employees, seemed to abuse his power, calling himself "the emperor of Galveston" and proclaiming "I am the government" on more than one occasion.

The judge further attracted the ire of members of Congress this week for submitting his letter of resignation, to take effect on June 1, 2010. This would permit the judge to continue to collect his salary of $174,000 while in prison. Kent's attorney, Dick DeGuerin contends that the judge chose to delay his resignation for a year in order to retain health benefits for his ailing wife.

Some representatives on the House Judiciary Committee, however, remain unconvinced that this warrants the delay of his removal from office.

Congressman Gohmert (R-TX) stated, "My understanding is that Judge Kent did not allow issues such as a defendant coming in and saying, 'Please don't send me to prison, I need the money to do something else, to help a sick wife or sick mother.' He didn't allow those things to impede justice?No that is not adequate reason. There are consequences to crimes."

Another representative on the House Judiciary Committee, Resident Commissioner Pierluisi (D-PR), noted that Judge Kent may withdraw his resignation at anytime before his resignation takes effect, thereby necessitating the impeachment process. By law, a federal judge can only be removed from office through impeachment.

Several representatives expressed the belief that the impeachment process must be invoked in order to maintain the integrity of the office and the faith of the American people in the country's justice system. Congresswoman Jackson-Lee (D-TX) stated, "Well certainly I think this is a?sad day for the impressions people have of the judiciary and I hope that this action today does not taint the high calling and the integrity of the nation's judiciary, the federal judiciary, which, I believe, is one that can be respected and?should have the trust of the American people."

The congresswoman further emphasized that she hoped that such a proceeding would indicate to the American public and the judiciary that accountability is paramount and that "the impeachment process is not a dead process."

The congresswoman also indicated that mental health support should be made available for lifetime appointees. Referring to the judge's alleged alcohol abuse and depression, she stated, "I am very disappointed that there seems not to be the kind of oversight and assistance for those who allegedly are suffering from some mental health needs and substance abuse. That is something that I am going to look further into as a member of the House Judiciary Committee." She also expressed her dismay that such sexual abuse still plagues women in the workplace, despite strides in this area. If the House of Representatives votes to impeach Judge Kent, the Senate will then administer a vote on whether or not to remove him from office.

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