Impeach Judge Samuel B. Kent

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

JUDGE Samuel B. Kent of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas was sentenced to 33 months in prison last month after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice for lying to officials investigating whether he sexually harassed female court employees. He entered the guilty plea on the eve of a trial on six counts, including several that alleged sexual abuse; if he had been convicted on all counts, he could have faced life behind bars. In his plea agreement, Judge Kent acknowledged engaging in nonconsensual sexual contact with two female employees between 2003 and 2007. Yet despite the plea and the admissions, Judge Kent wants to continue to collect his roughly $170,000 salary.

Constitutionally, a federal judge cannot be removed from office except through impeachment. Judge Kent tendered his resignation earlier this week, but not to take effect until June 1, 2010 -- one year from now. Unless he is impeached and removed, he will collect his federal paycheck while behind bars.

The absurdity of the situation has rightly moved members of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and ranking Republican Lamar Smith (Tex.), to convene impeachment hearings. Judge Kent's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, told the Houston Chronicle that his client deserves some mercy: "The truth is he's been a walking basket case for several years. He's not the same man" since his first wife died in 2000; Judge Kent's current wife, Mr. DeGuerin said in an interview, is also gravely ill.

Lawmakers must afford Judge Kent every protection required by law. The impeachment process may take some time, during which Judge Kent may collect his salary. But Congress should proceed anyway. Every day that Judge Kent collects his federal paycheck is an affront to the bench and the American people.

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