MICHELE NORRIS, host:
A federal judge in Texas is on an ignominious track. He's likely to become the first federal judge to be impeached in 20 years. The judge is Samuel Kent of Texas. He's admitted to sexually harassing and abusing two female members of his staff. He's also been convicted of obstruction of justice. Kent is scheduled to report to prison on Monday.
But as NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, he refuses to step down or give up his salary until next year.
WADE GOODWYN: For years, Galveston federal judge Samuel Kent made unwanted sexual advances upon 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. Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee, the panel's only woman member, apologized to the victims on behalf of their employer, the federal government.
Representative SHEILA JACKSON LEE (Democrat, Texas): I was saddened and in shock and certainly it was provoking. So I apologized.
GOODWYN: 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 victim's testimony before recommending impeachment.
Mr. DICK DEGUERIN (Lawyer): How many times do you have to kick a man when he's down? Sam Kent stepped up, took responsibility for what he's done and he's going to prison over it. Why does that mean that you have to totally humiliate him to boot?
GOODWYN: Kent confessed in court that he was guilty of making continuous unwanted sexual advances towards 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. That provoked outrage. But inside the Houston legal community there is more sympathy. Paul Nugent is a well-regarded Houston trial lawyer who's known the judge for decades.
Mr. PAUL NUGENT (Lawyer): You know, his wife, his high school sweetheart and love of his life got brain cancer for five years. Judge Kent struggled with that. Eventually she was confined to a wheelchair and was incontinent and couldn't talk. That took a toll on him. I'm not excusing anything Judge Kent may have done, or I'm not excusing the law violations he committed, but it's not just black and white.
GOODWYN: Nugent and 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 be heard by the full House probably next week. If approved, Samuel Kent will be tried before the U.S. Senate.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.
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