Whether you're an Article III Groupie, a casual court watcher, or a member of the
general population taxpaying public, you'd probably like to believe that the federal judiciary is comprised of people of integrity and sterling character. For the most part, it is ... with some exceptions.
Exhibit A: Naughty former District Judge Samuel Kent, who was sentenced today to 33 months in the pokey for obstruction of justice. As many Groupies are aware, the obstruction charges against Kent stemmed from an investigation into his relentlessly randy behavior with respect to, inter alia, his case manager and secretary, whose complaints led to the "first sex abuse case ever against a sitting federal judge." In addition to hard time, sentencing Judge Roger Vinson ordered Kent to pay a $1,000 fine and $6,550 in restitution to the two afore-mentioned women.
The sordid details of Kent's fall from grace (or perhaps simply from a less disgraceful state), have been well documented. (See, e.g., the sparkling coverage by our friends at ATL). For those of you whose recollections thirst for some refreshment, the basic facts are as follows: Kent was accused of aggressively harassing several women who worked in the Galveston, TX courthouse, where he was the sole federal judge -- a fact which, apparently, led Kent to engage in the figurative equivalent of rubbing his hands together, laughing mainacally, and proclaiming the courthouse fiefdom to be "Mine ... all mine! BWAHHAAHHHAAA!" According to case manager Cathy McBroom, Kent harassed and sexually abused her over several years, "culminating in March 2007, when she said the judge pulled up her blouse and tried to escalate contact until they were interrupted." Donna Wilkerson, the judge's secretary, told of similarly crude behavior, and when Kent's attorney suggested that she was complicit in the "affair," Wilkerson responded to say that "[b]eing molested and groped by a drunken giant," was "not [her] idea of an affair." Meow! In this blogress's humble opinion, Wilkerson gets high marks for sass under pressure.
Kent was admonished and suspended from service for four months. Then, in Septmeber, 2008, comeuppance arrived in the form of a grand jury indictment - handed down in the very courthouse where Kent both prowled and presided. Although he initially came out swinging, pleading "absolutely, unequivocally not guilty" and talkin' trash about his readiness for a trial on the merits of what he "consider[ed] to be flagrant, scurrilous charges," it was, not unexpectedly, only a matter of time before Judge Kent saw the light of day from a practical (i.e., sentencing) perspective and/or realized the extent of his mental illness, substance abuse, and the aberrant behavior both had caused. Indeed, Kent claims that he is disabled, and thus entitled to collect his full pension, which is a generous $169,300 per year. Though his official diagnosis is unclear, some court-watchers are undoubtedly surprised that "lecherous jerk" might be considered a disabling condition. In any event, Kent pleaded guilty on the eve of trial, thereby saving himself from a decidely un-sexy level of "exposure." Not so hot, is it, Judge?
At Kent's sentencing today, his victims spoke candidly of the psychological damage they suffered at his hands, the miserable work environment they endured, and the overall ickiness of his behavior. (As anyone who has clerked can attest, chambers can be small places, and the thought of our wise, somewhat parental judicial patrons cornering us to cop a feel is enough to induce vomiting in many of us.) Kent also got a good, hard bench-slapping. "Your wrongful conduct is a huge black X, a smear on the legal profession, a stain on the judicial system itself, a matter of concern in the federal courts," U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson told him. Reports indicate that Kent looked at his feet and apologized to his family and the court staff, but did not express contrition to his victims. Perhaps he a sua sponte motion to reconsider is in order? No rush: there's no time like hard time for catch up on one's administrative matters, reading, and small craft projects.
Speaking of "hard time," Clerquette notes that Kent's sentence will probably result in his assignment to what is known euphemistically as a "camp," and known colloquially as "pillow-tag ripper jail." Mind you, dear readers: these institutions are still prisons, and one's peers/shower companions might include both chastened Ponzi-schemers AND violent criminals doing stints for "violence lite." Nonetheless, federal camps have a reputation for being a place where the deer, the antelopes, and the mildly bad actors play.
Toodles, Judge Kent!
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