Judge in sex case gets 33 months

May 11, 2009 11:08:29 AM PDT
A disgraced federal judge was sentenced Monday to nearly three years in prison for lying to investigators about whether he sexually abused his secretary. U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent was sentenced to 33 months Monday. He was also fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $6,550 in restitution to the two women whose complaints resulted in the first sex abuse case against a sitting federal judge.

Kent could have received up to 20 years in prison after admitting to obstruction of justice, but prosecutors said they wouldn't seek more than three years under a plea agreement.

"Your wrongful conduct is a huge black X ... a stain on the judicial system itself, a matter of concern in the federal courts," U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson said as he imposed the sentence. Vinson is a visiting senior judge called in from Pensacola, Fla.

Kent pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in February as jury selection for his trial was about to begin. He had been charged with obstruction and five sex-crime counts alleging that he groped his secretary and his former case manager. Conviction on the most serious of those charges could have sent him to prison for life.

As part of the plea agreement, Kent admitted the sexual contact was against the two women's will.

His case manager accused him of harassing and sexually abusing her over a four-year period, culminating in March 2007, when she said the judge pulled up her blouse and bra and tried to escalate contact until they were interrupted.

A council of judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals investigated Kent and suspended him in September 2007 for four months with pay but didn't detail the allegations against him.

The judicial panel transferred him from Galveston, where he'd worked since his 1990 appointment, to Houston, 50 miles northwest. After a Justice Department investigation, he was indicted in August.

Additional charges - including the obstruction count to which he ultimately pleaded guilty - were filed against Kent in January. They alleged that Kent tried to force a court secretary into a sexual act between January 2004 and January 2005 and lied about it to investigators.

Kent's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said at the time of the guilty plea the judge was retiring from the bench, then clarified later that Kent intended to retire due to a disability.

Federal judges must be at least 65 before they can retire and reaching that age allows them to still collect their full salaries for the remainder of their lives.

Kent, who was paid $169,300 a year, is 59. The only way a younger judge could retire and still collect his salary would be to claim a disability, either mental or physical. A federal judge who resigns gets nothing.

Kent and his attorney said when he made his plea that the judge was taking medication for depression and anxiety and was under the care of both a psychiatrist and a psychologist.

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