Judge accused of sex harassment speaks out

January 13, 2008 7:13:45 PM PST
A federal judge who served a four-month suspension and has been reassigned from Galveston to Houston while the Justice Department investigates a sexual harassment complaint told a newspaper he struggled with alcohol abuse after his first wife's death. U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent broke nearly a four-month public silence in a seven-page written response to questions submitted by the Houston Chronicle. However, he did not address specifics of the misconduct allegations against him, citing federal laws that make judicial investigations secret.

"As with every human controversy, there are absolutely two sides to this one, and I will vigorously present mine at the appropriate time," Kent told the newspaper. "It has been extremely frustrating for me, my family and my staff not to be able to speak in my defense."

Kent, 58, returned to the bench last week in Houston and was met by protesters supporting Cathy McBroom, who has accused Kent of repeatedly harassing her over four years. McBroom has declined to comment, but people close to her have told the newspaper that the harassment culminated in March when Kent allegedly pulled up her blouse and bra and tried to escalate contact until they were interrupted.

Kent told the newspaper that he "had a drinking problem" and sometimes drank during work days after his first wife died in 2000 after a five-year battle with cancer. He said he was "a wreck" after her death.

"I found the entire experience to be extremely devastating. In retrospect, I was a mess," he said. "I was by then severely diabetic from the stress and weight gain, I still drank too much and I was probably pretty much a jerk to be around."

"In those days on some occasions, I returned to the courthouse after having wine with lunch, but never in circumstances that would impair my judicial abilities," Kent said. "As I have worked on my diabetes, drinking and overall physical function, those occasions have dropped dramatically over the last several years."

Kent was known for biting and humorous opinions that often criticized the attorneys involved in the cases. The judge said some of that venom stemmed from his experience caring for his ill wife.

"It is very hard to sit in the waiting rooms of M.D. Anderson and see an endless parade of people at or near death's door and then listen to someone whine about bruising their knee in the parking lot at Wal-Mart for which they expect $150,000," Kent said.

Kent remarried eight months after his wife died.

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

The Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suspended Kent in September for four months. He still collected his $165,000 annual salary.

The council last month postponed referring 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 is holding off on looking into accusations against Kent until the criminal investigation is complete.

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