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JUDGE WATCH: Federal Judge Samuel Kent Getting Sentenced Today

This blog first posted about Galveston’s federal judge Samuel Kent back in October, when Judge Kent made history as the first federal judge — EVER — to be indicted for sex crimes. Tidbits from that first post:

Judge Kent has been indicted (formally charged) with three crimes: (1) two counts of abusive sexual contact and (2) one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse. His trial was initially set for the first week of November, in a Houston federal courtroom — now that Ike’s done its damage, the trial has just been moved back to January 2009….

Judge Kent’s former case manager has said that the judge groped her, and tried to force her into a sexual act. The Department of Justice investigated, and these formal charges are the result of that investigation….

His attorney, Dick DeGuerin, isn’t denying that something happen between the judge and the employee; instead, DeGuerin has explained that what happened between them was consensual. “To charge Judge Kent of conduct of which he is absolutely innocent based on this kind of flimsy evidence is inexcusable and we will fight it to the bitter end,” DeGuerin said (quoting the Wall Street Journal).

Then, in January 2009, this blog updated this story, with news that new charges had been added to Judge Kent’s indictment while Judge Kent was still setting on the bench, pending trial:

So, right now, over in the Houston federal courthouse, you’ve got District Judge Samuel Kent working away after being transferred to Houston from his longtime bench in Galveston after becoming this infamous, indicted judge. And, down the hall, you’ve got the very same District Judge Samuel Kent facing trial later this month for these various sex crimes….

And, if that weren’t bizarre enough for you — last Friday, Judge Kent got three new charges added to his indictment which brought in a second female court employee alleging that Judge Kent had performed acts that amount to aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact. Also added, an obstruction of justice charge.

It’s reported that his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, says that these new charges aren’t true but he can’t say more than that, because there is a gag order in place….

By adding this new spin to the indictment, Judge Kent not only has to defend against what two women are saying he did, but he’s got to face off against investigators and the like, who are going to tell a jury that Kent lied to them about things, thwarting their efforts.

As Martha [Stewart] can tell you, under an obstruction charge, you don’t have to be guilty of the crime being investigated to be guilty of obstruction. And you still face a significant punishment: on obstruction alone, Judge Kent could face 20 years imprisonment – and that’s before you begin to consider the ramifications to his legal career….

Charging obstruction is a scary thing — regardless of how horrid the alleged conduct might be, having grand juries tack these charges onto indictments is getting to be pretty Big Brother-y for some: you’ve got the constitutional right not to incriminate yourself, but absent taking the 5th how much leeway does a defendant having these days in dealing with the legal authorities?

Creating criminal liability where there wasn’t any beforehand is a danger to justice, and something we all need to be watching, as many scholars are warning against prosecutors’ “creative interpretation” of the obstruction statutes.

Now, there’s more news. Today, Judge Kent will be sentenced in federal court, after entering into a plea agreement.

Seems that last winter, right as jury selection was beginning for his trial, Judge Kent agreed to a plea bargain and avoided a public trial which promised to contain some very scandalous evidence. (See the January post for details.)

At the time of the plea, Judge Kent admitted sexual contact with the two female complaintants occurred, and was against their will. He also informed the court that he intended to retire based upon a disability (at 59, if he resigns he gets no pension – he’d have to be 65 or older for that), and that he was under the care of both a psychologist and psychiatrist at the time of the plea, as well as being on medication for depression and anxiety.

So, it looks like the deal that was made boils down to this: admit to the guilt regarding the sexual contact, and keep your pension.

Let’s see if the visiting Florida judge goes along with it.

And, let’s see if we ever hear anything more on those obstruction of justice charges — were they merely a prosecutorial tool used to force a plea in a case that would otherwise be one person’s word against the others? Those details should come to light at some point.


Houston Chronicle

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