Reprimanded judge greeted by protestors

January 3, 2008 3:26:17 AM PST
A federal judge under investigation after being accused of sexually harassing a female employee was greeted Wednesday by protesters objecting to his return from a four-month suspension. The protesters included family and friends of Cathy McBroom, who has accused U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent of repeatedly harassing her over four years. She has said the harassment culminated in a March incident in his chambers in Galveston in which the judge allegedly pulled up her blouse and bra and tried to escalate contact until they were interrupted.

Wearing or holding up signs that read, "Impeach Judge Kent" and passing out flyers detailing the accusations against the judge, McBroom's parents, husband, children and friends, many from out of town, braved the bitter cold to march in front of the federal courthouse.

McBroom was transferred to Houston, located 50 miles northwest of Galveston, after reporting her allegations.

Kent, as part of his punishment, also was relocated to Houston. Rex McBroom, Cathy McBroom's husband, said his wife was not able to sleep very well Tuesday night knowing she and Kent would once again be working in the same building.

"One of her biggest fears is seeing him in the halls," he said as about 10 protesters marched in front of the courthouse, with Houston police keeping watch from a nearby car. There were about 30 protesters at the demonstration's peak.

Charlene Clark, Cathy McBroom's best friend, said she talked with McBroom Wednesday morning and that McBroom was nervous and that no one inside the courthouse was mentioning Kent's return to her. McBroom has not made any public comments about her accusations.

Mary Ann Schopp, Cathy McBroom's mother, said her daughter has no regrets about coming forward with her accusations.

"She knew what she was in for. But she knew it would be worth it to come forward to see that justice is done and this not be allowed to continue," she said.

Dick DeGuerin, Kent's defense attorney, said the judge "was eager to be back at work."

But beyond that, DeGuerin said neither he nor Kent could make any other comments because of confidentiality rules surrounding the case.

"It certainly is frustrating when one side is running to the press, actively seeking a public forum in the media and the other side is respecting the orders to remain silent," said DeGuerin, who maintains the judge has not broken any laws.

Kent was not scheduled to hear any cases Wednesday but instead was working in his chambers, according to his office. When asked if Kent was going to hear any cases this week, his office referred all inquiries to David Bradley, chief deputy clerk for the Southern District of Texas. He did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

During the Justice Department investigation, Kent won't hear any cases involving sexual misconduct allegations or ones in which the United States is a party.

The Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reprimanded Kent in September, ordering him on leave for four months. He still collected his $165,000 annual salary. The reprimand gave no details about the allegations made against Kent.

But on Wednesday, Cathy McBroom's family and friends reiterated many of the details surrounding the accusations against Kent that they have previously made in the media. They allege that the judge harassed other female workers and that McBroom was advised not to come forward because she could lose her job.

"We want to keep this in the public's attention because they are desperately trying to keep it as quiet as possible," said Clark, who lives in San Antonio.

The judicial council last month postponed acting on a request to refer the matter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, which can recommend Kent's impeachment. The council said it didn't want to interfere with the criminal investigation.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee said in November it will hold off on looking into accusations against Kent until other steps, including the criminal investigation, take place.