Federal Judge In Texas Faces Impeachment

A federal judge in Texas is likely to become the first federal judge to be impeached in 20 years.

Judge Samuel Kent admitted to sexually harassing and abusing two female members of his staff, and was convicted of obstruction of justice. He is scheduled to report to prison Monday, but he has refused to step down and give up his salary until next year.

For years, Kent made unwanted sexual advances toward his legal secretary and his case manager. But in February, Kent's sexual misconduct caught up to him; he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for lying to federal investigators.

Only Congress has the constitutional authority to remove a federal judge from the bench, and this week the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment task force voted unanimously to refer four articles of impeachment. The task force heard graphic testimony from the two women about the abuse they suffered.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), the panel's only female member, apologized to the victims on behalf of their employer, the federal government.

"I was saddened and in shock," she said. "And certainly it was provoking, so I apologized."

A federal judge in a small city like Galveston is powerful and revered. Kent's fall from grace and public esteem has been both brutal and complete. His lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, was angered at the House Judiciary Committee's decision to hear the victims' testimony before recommending impeachment.

"How many times do you have to kick a man when he's down? Sam Kent stepped up, took responsibility for what's he done and he's going to prison for it," DeGuerin says. "Why do you have to totally humiliate him to boot?"

Kent confessed in court that he was guilty of making continuous unwanted sexual advances toward his employees, but the fires of public indignation were truly set ablaze when the judge indicated he intended to continue taking his salary and benefits for a year while serving his prison sentence.

Inside the Houston legal community, however, there is more sympathy.

Paul Nugent, a well-regarded Houston trial lawyer who has known Kent for decades, says Kent was adversely affected by his wife's brain cancer.

"You know his wife, his high school sweetheart and the love of his life got brain cancer for five years," Nugent says. "Judge Kent struggled with that.

"Eventually, she was confined to a wheelchair, was incontinent and couldn't talk. Now that took a toll on him. I'm not excusing anything Judge Kent may have done. I'm not excusing any law violations he committed, but it's not just black and white."

Nugent and other legal colleagues say Kent began drinking heavily, and upon his wife's death, suffered an emotional breakdown that left him a changed man.

The four articles of impeachment will next be heard by the full House. If approved, Samuel Kent will be tried before the U.S. Senate.

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