House Impeaches Imprisoned Federal Judge
By Ben Pershing
The House today overwhelmingly approved four articles of impeachment against a U.S. district court judge, seeking to remove from the bench a man who is already serving a federal prison sentence. He now faces trial by the Senate.
Samuel B. Kent, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas since 1990, was indicted last year on multiple counts of sexual abuse and other charges stemming from his behavior toward female employees. In February, Kent pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, admitting that he had lied to a judicial committee investigating the allegations against him, and that he had nonconsensual sexual contact with employees. Kent was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison, a term he began serving earlier this week.
Kent submitted his resignation from the bench two weeks ago but made the effective date June 2010, a tactic that would enable him to continue drawing his annual salary of $174,000 until then. Kent's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said there was a good reason why his client post-dated his resignation.
"I figure that it will take at least that long for Congress and the Senate to go through all of the motions for impeachment," DeGuerin told Texas Lawyer. "And he would be entitled to continue the health benefits that he has during that time. They can either have their spectacle or accept his resignation as tendered and go on to more important business that Congress has."
But that argument did not sway the House Judiciary Committee, which reported out the four articles of impeachment against Kent last week, alleging that he sexually assaulted two women, and lied to both the FBI and a judicial committee investigating the incidents.
"He has already pleaded guilty," Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Texas) said of Kent, "and the testimony we've heard about his disgusting abuse of power against his female staffers confirms that he should no longer receive the privileges of serving on the bench."
The House votes today were nearly unanimous; no member voted against any of the four impeachment articles, though Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) did vote "present" on the fourth article, which accuses Kent of lying to the FBI. "He thought the fourth one was borderline -- the weakest of the four by far," explained a Watt aide, adding that his boss also voted "present" on the fourth article when the Judiciary Committee considered the charges.
According to Senate records, Kent is the 18th federal official and the 14th judge -- the first in 20 years -- impeached by the House. Of those 18, 14 have been tried by the Senate, seven were acquitted and seven were convicted.
One of the lawmakers who voted to impeach Kent was Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), a former judge who was himself impeached in 1988 on charges of bribery and perjury and removed from the federal bench by the Senate. He was elected to Congress four years later.
Now it's the Senate's turn to deal with Kent. The chamber will appoint a special committee to investigate the charges and do pre-trial work before the full Senate has a trial. It is not yet clear how quickly that will occur.
"We're preparing to receive the articles of impeachment from the House and hope to proceed to a trial in as timely a manner as possible," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
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