Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Texas federal judge convicted of lying about his sexual abuse of two assistants cannot continue to receive his full salary for the rest of his life, the chief of a disciplinary panel of judges ruled Wednesday.
That panel is also urging quick impeachment proceedings against Samuel Kent of Galveston, who was sentenced to nearly three years in prison for lying to authorities about his assaults on two women on his staff.
The Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a letter sent Wednesday to the Judicial Conference, a policy-making panel of the appellate courts, that Kent has acknowledged behavior that constitutes grounds for impeachment.
At his sentencing earlier this month, the two women described nightmarish working conditions when Kent groped and molested them in his chambers. Kent pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for lying about the incidents to federal investigators. He was sentenced to 33 months in prison, fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $6,550 in restitution to the secretary and case manager whose complaints resulted in the first sex abuse case against a sitting federal judge.
Kent was ordered to surrender to authorities June 15 for transfer to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and must serve three years' probation once his sentence is completed. He also was ordered to participate in an alcohol-abuse program while in prison.
Kent asked that he be allowed to retire on disability, citing depression. Because federal judges serve for life, he could collect his $169,300 annual salary until he died. Kent is 59.
Chief Justice Edith Jones, the head of the Judicial Council, denied that request in a separate letter to Kent's attorney Dick DeGuerin.
A judge claiming disability "should not profit from his own wrongdoing, by engaging in criminal misconduct and then collecting a federal retirement salary for the disability related to the prosecution," Jones said.
In the letter, Jones said alcohol abuse seems to have been a "catalyst" of his abuse of two female employees. She acknowledged that he had been taking psychotropic drugs to control his depression, but said he also handled a high volume of cases until he was criminally indicted.
"Because Judge Kent's present disability is interrelated with the consequences of criminal prosecution culminating in the guilty plea, federal law does not permit him to retire on disability," Jones said.
Jones said the medical reports she consulted in making her decision "paint a picture of a man who has had psychological problems in dealing with the high authority inherent in his position," with those he considered subordinates and with women.
Kent has diabetes and is "shadowed" by experiences from his past, including his first wife's long illness and death, she said.
Jones said the law allows a disabled judge to be given senior status, allowing him to perform some work, but the same laws assume the judge is in good standing. Kent forfeited his claim to senior status when he pleaded guilty to obstruction, Jones said.
The letter was posted on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Web site. Jones said the novelty of Kent's disability request and the intense public interest in the criminal case created a need to inform the public of her reasons for her decision.
DeGuerin was out of the country and not immediately available to comment, an assistant at his firm said. Kent's home number is unlisted.
The House Judiciary Committee has begun an investigation of whether to impeach Kent, the only way to force a federal judge from the bench. The committee members conducting the investigation scheduled a hearing on Kent's possible impeachment next Wednesday.
"It's time for Judge Kent to resign," said Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, ranking Republican on the committee.
Kent had been the only federal judge in Galveston, an island city 60 miles southeast of Houston. The judicial council transferred him to the Houston federal courthouse as part of his punishment before he pleaded guilty to a crime.
On the Web: http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/News/news/DeguerinResponseLetter.pdf
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.