In an extraordinary spectacle a US federal judge has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charge in order that he would be let off the hook in sex crimes probe.
U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent, the first federal judge charged with a sex crime, conceded Monday that he had lied to a judicial committee investigating the sex-related charges against him.
He has also retired, avoiding possible impeachment by Congress. Kent has been on the bench for nearly 19 years. Federal judges are appointed for life and can only be removed through impeachment by Congress.
He has forestalled such a possibility now, and his guilty plea came as jury selection in his trial was to begin.
Kent, who normally speaks in loud, clear tones, all but whispered his guilty plea at the bench. The court reporter strained to hear what he said.
Dick DeGuerin, his counsel, told the court that his client was only being a gentleman when he lied about his affair to the judicial commission investigating the original complaint.
"Through the ages the recognized proper course of conduct was to not discuss affairs of the heart. It's nothing more than that," DeGuerin said.
He also told the court that indicted federal judge was taking medication for depression and anxiety as well as diabetes and was under the care of both a psychiatrist and a psychologist.
Kent has vigorously maintained his innocence, promising a "horde of witnesses" in his defense. DeGuerin had said the judge's conduct with the two women figuring in the case was mutual and consensual.
Prosecutors had retaliated, saying they would present evidence showing there was nothing consensual about what Kent did with the two women, Cathy McBroom, his former case manager, and Donna Wilkerson, the judge's current secretary.
After Kent's indictment last year, Cathy Broom had said, "After a very difficult 17 months, I feel like I have finally been validated. I have listened and read with horror as Judge Kent's lawyer suggested that what happened to me was 'enthusiastically consensual...I am relieved to find that even federal judges are not above the law, and that sexual abuse in the workplace is never acceptable, no matter the status of the offender."
According to court papers, Cathy] McBroom was summoned to the judge's chambers one afternoon.
Her hands were full of legal papers when the judge — a former high school athlete who is more than 6 inches taller and at least 100 pounds heavier — asked for a hug.
She told him she didn't think that was appropriate, but reluctantly approached.
The judge grabbed Mc-Broom, pulled up her blouse and her bra and put his mouth on her breast. Then, Kent forced her head down toward his crotch.
As McBroom struggled, Kent kept telling the married mother of three what he wanted to do to her in words too graphic to publish. The papers fell to the floor. The pet bulldog Kent kept in his chambers began to bark.
The incident was interrupted by the sound of footsteps from another staff member in the corridor, and the judge loosened his grip. As she left, the judge said McBroom was a good case manager and then made suggestions about engaging in a sexual act.
McBroom ran out crying.
The plea deal now includes that prosecutors will dismiss the sex charges against Kent.
"Judge Kent believes this compromise settlement was in the best interests of all involved," his attorney, Dick DeGuerin said in a statement after the hearing. "A trial would have been embarrassing and difficult for all involved."
The judicial council suspended Kent in September 2007 for four months with pay but didn't detail the allegations against him. It also transferred him to Houston, 50 miles northwest of Galveston, where he had worked since being appointed in 1990.
A Justice Department investigation of McBroom's claims led to Kent's indictment in August on three federal sex charges.
Last month, prosecutors added two more sex charges and the obstruction charge, accusing Kent of trying to engage his former secretary in a sex act and then lying about it to the judicial council.
The two women Kent is accused of abusing each stood in front of the courthouse this morning while their attorneys made brief statements to the press.
"I just think this is a tremendously big day for Cathy," Rusty Hardin said of Cathy McBroom, Kent's former Galveston case manager who first came forward and started the judicial investigation that led to the criminal case.
"She's a woman who had the courage to come forward," Hardin said.
"I'm very happy that this part of the process is over," said McBroom, who still works at the federal courts. "I feel extremely relieved."
She said she looks forward to Kent's sentencing, set in May.
Hardin said he expects the victims will have a chance to speak then. Federal law requires judges to consider the victims' input in sentencing.
Terry Yates spoke to reporters with his client, Donna Wilkerson. She is the current secretary for Kent, although they have not been working together since charges related to her allegations were added to the case.
"She can be a beacon of hope for other people in this situation," Yates said of Wilkerson, who made no comment herself.
"He may go to federal prison. He may have civil litigation. But never again will he sit on the federal bench as a judge," said 11 News legal expert Gerald Treece. "His career is over."