FEBRUARY 23, 2009
A Texas judge will make history this week as the first federal jurist to be tried for sex crimes and one of a handful in history to occupy the defendant’s chair in a U.S. courtroom.
Jury selection has started in the trial of U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent, the scandal-plagued Houston jurist whose lengthy career has been marred with controversy, federal investigations, multiple indictments and suspension by his circuit’s Judicial Council.
In August Kent was charged with abusive sexual contact and attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a female employee (his former case manager). Last month, a Houston grand jury indicted him on three additional charges— aggravated sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact and obstruction of justice—involving a separate female court employee.
Kent, who was appointed to the bench in 1990 by George H.W. Bush, was also suspended (with pay) for four months by the Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit. In its admonishment, the 19-member judicial council wrote that Kent violated the mandates of the Canons of the Code of Conduct for United States judges and that his actions were prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of justice.
Kent’s problems are not limited to his sexual misconduct cases, however. The FBI is also investigating him for possible crimes involving inappropriate relationships with attorneys that may have received favorable treatment in his court room.
If Kent gets convicted he will join only a handful of disgraced federal judges to earn the accolade. The last federal judge to be convicted was New Orleans’ Robert Collins in 1991 for scheming with a businessman to split a drug smuggler’s $100,000 payoff. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
In the 1980s two federal judges in separate parts of the country were convicted of crimes. Mississippi Judge Walter Nixon was sentenced to five years in prison for perjury involving a federal grand jury investigation of a drug smuggling case and Reno Judge Harry Claiborne was found guilty of tax evasion. Both were eventually impeached by the House of Representatives.
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