District Judge Samuel Kent pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice today and retired from the bench

U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice today and retired from the bench, avoiding a trial on that charge and five others accusing him of sexually abusing two female employees.Kent was scheduled to see a jury selected this morning for his trial on all six felony counts.Few federal judges ever go to trial, but his would have been the first in which a federal judge was accused of sexual charges.“Judge Kent believes that this settlement is in the best interest of all involved,” his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said after this morning’s hearing.“A trial would have been long, embarrassing and difficult for all involved,” DeGuerin added. He said Kent has retired from the bench.Kent faces up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge. Prosecutors have suggested he be sentenced to three years in prison, but the judge is not bound by that recommendationSenior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson has imposed a gag order on those involved in the case, but allowed DeGuerin to make his statement to the news media.The two female court employees with whom Kent now admits he had non-consensual sexual contact also were barred from speaking by Vinson’s order.Gag orders are designed to protect the rights of defendants from public prejudice before trial. Kent has waived his right to appeal and it is unclear why Vinson would issue a gag order.Kent, who normally speaks in loud, clear tones, all but whispered his guilty plea at the bench. The court reporter strained to hear what he said.Although, in most pleas in the federal courthouse in Houston, defendants are made to state their crimes, neither Kent nor prosecutor Peter Ainsworth stated the crimes in court.
Instead, papers were filed stating that Kent had non-consensual sex with two former female employees between 2003 and 2007.The papers also state that, as part of the investigation into a complaint by one of the women, Kent lied about his relationship with the second woman to the Special Investigative Committee of the 5th Circuit.
Kent signed those papers admitting his wrongdoing.The plea deal includes that prosecutors will dismiss the other five charges still pending against Kent.The two women he is accused of abusing each stood in front of the courthouse this morning while their attorneys made brief statements to the press. Judge Vinson’s gag order prevented them from saying much.“I just think this is a tremendously big day for Cathy,” Rusty Hardin said of Cathy McBroom, Kent’s former Galveston case manager who first came forward and started the judicial investigation that led to the criminal case.“She’s a woman who had the courage to come forward,” Hardin said.“I’m very happy that this part of the process is over,” said McBroom, who still works at the federal courts. “I feel extremely relieved.”She said she looks forward to Kent’s sentencing, set in May.Hardin said he expects the victims will have a chance to speak then. Federal law requires judges to consider the victims’ input in sentencing.
Terry Yates spoke to reporters with his client, Donna Wilkerson. She is the current secretary for Kent, although they have not been working together since charges related to her allegations were added to the case.“She can be a beacon of hope for other people in this situation,” Yates said of Wilkerson, who made no comment herself.Kent, 59, was appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and was the sole district federal judge in Galveston in most of the ensuing years.The obstruction charge accuses Kent of lying to a 5th Circuit Judicial Council panel that was investigating an accusation that he abused one of his female employees.
The federal probation department will conduct an investigation into Kent’s background. After that is completed, Vinson, of Pensacola, Fla., will take the department’s report into consideration before deciding on Kent’s sentence.Kent was appointed for life and can be removed only by congressional impeachment.The judicial council reprimanded Kent in September 2007. After the obstruction charge was added to the indictment in January, the council said it would reopen its judicial misconduct investigation.It also is possible, if not likely, that the Congress will now look at impeaching Kent to take him off the federal payroll and retirement package he gets as a federal judge. Yates said he expects Congress to act on this very quickly.

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