Hall of Shame: Mr. Justice Samuel B. Kent, Felon

Mr. Justice Samuel B. Kent, Felon

Samuel B. Kent was born in Denver Colorado on June 22, 1949. He graduated from the University of Texas Law School and practiced law in Galveston, Texas with the firm now known as Royston Rayzor.

The present firm website is wisely devoid of any mention of the former partner, Mr. Kent.

There is no information to formally link him to John Grisham but if Grisham is bored and looking for new material, he could do no better than a biography of Samuel B. Kent.

The things he got away with as presiding justice of law, inside the Courthouse of Galveston, Texas, are almost unbelievable.

In 1990, Samuel Kent was appointed to the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas (counties of Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston and Matagorda). That put him in complete control of the Federal courthouse at Galveston.

This became a tool of power or him. He later told his secretary who he was sexually abusing:

"‘I am the Government. I’m the Lion King. It’s good to be king. I’m the Emperor of Galveston, the man wearing the horned hat, guiding the ship.’’

Samuel KentThere was definitely something amiss with Justice Kent but initially, all that could be said of him from the public record was that he had a penchant for extremely peculiar opinions, some of which are reported in the USFJDO law report series (eg. Smith v Colonial Penn, [1996] USFJDO 1; Republic of Bolivia v. Philip Morris Companies, [1999] USFJDO 1; and Bradshaw v Unity Marine, [2001] USFJDO 1).

Kent was not a good judge. He once remarked

"The Federal Circuit reversed everything I've ever done, so I expect fully they'll reverse this too."1

No surprise that as of 2001, Kent was seeing more and more application to transfer the cae away from his courtroom, where good law and even justice were increasingly random.

Eager to stop the flow lest it attract the attention of his chief justice, he denied one application to transfer venue using these words:

"Manifestly, any person with even a correspondence-course level understanding of federal practice and procedure would recognize that Defendant's Motion [was] patently insipid, ludicrous and utterly and unequivocally without any merit whatsoever."2

But if, in law, the evidence that outs at trial is often but the tip of the iceberg in terms of actual crimes committed, Justice Kent was by all accounts a son-of-a-bitch.

Finally, in May 2007, Cathy McBroom an employee of the Courthouse summoned the courage necessary to file a complaint against Kent. She later described the attacks:

"I will forever be scarred by what happened to me in Galveston. The abuse began after Judge Kent returned to work intoxicated. He attacked me in a small room that was not 10 feet from the command center where the court security officers worked. He tried to undress me and force himself upon me while I begged him to stop. He told me he didn’t care if the officers could hear him because he knew everyone was afraid of him. I later found out just how true that was. He had the power to end careers and affect everyone’s livelihood. I had already reported his behavior to my manager. She knew about the assaults from the very beginning..

"The last assault I had was more terrifying and threatening than ever before. After forcing himself upon me and asking me to do unspeakable things, he told me that pleasuring him was something I owed him.."

A formal investigation was convened. Kent appeared and mentioned his secretary, Donna Wilkerson, offering that he had kissed her once.

What was not immediately made known was that Kent had also tried to intimidate his secretary Wilkerson into repeating the lie. Initially, Ms Wilkerson complied. Kent told her he was on suicide-watch to scare her.

But Wilkerson soon ran to the side of McBroom. Wilkerson's subsequent evidence:

"For the last 7 years, I was sexually and psychologically abused and manipulated. Sexual abuse began on the fifth day, the fifth day of my career working with Sam Kent....

"He continues his manipulative behavior in seeking a mental disability when just 2 years ago he fought hard to make his accusers and the investigators know that he was fully capable of keeping his bench."

The gravamen of the charges against him are summarized by Houston Chronicle reporter Lisa Olsen in her October 2008 article:

"U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent is the first federal judge to be indicted for alleged federal sex crimes, but he's only the latest in a string of jurists to face misconduct allegations in 2008, for behavior such as frequenting a topless club or lying under oath.... He's been indicted but pleaded not guilty to charges he improperly touched a female court employee and attempted to force her to perform oral sex."

Kent behind barsThe opportunities given to judges but not to other is clearly highlighted by the Court's Investigation Committee decision to suspend Kent with pay ... and re-assign him to Houston! At least the FBI and the Department of Justice picked up the file and in August 2008, a Grand Jury returned an indictment for abusive sexual contact.

Kent took disability leave but a year later, the United Staes Congress issued impeachment papers against him, charing him with "high crimes and misdemeanors". The allegations:

"Cathy McBroom was an employee of the Office of the Clerk of Court for the Southern District of Texas, and served as a Deputy Clerk in the Galveston Division assigned to Judge Kent’s courtroom.

"On one or more occasions between 2003 and 2007, Judge Kent sexually assaulted Cathy McBroom, by touching her private areas directly and through her clothing against her will and by attempting to cause her to engage in a sexual act with him.....

"Donna Wilkerson (Kent's secretary) was an employee of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. On one or more occasions between 2001and 2007, Judge Kent sexually assaulted Donna Wilkerson, by touching her in her private areas against her will and by attempting to cause her to engage in a sexual act with him.

"On or about May 21, 2007, Cathy McBroom filed a judicial misconduct complaint with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In response, the Fifth Circuit appointed a Special Investigative Committee (hereinafter in this article referred to as ‘‘the Committee’’) to investigate Cathy McBroom’s complaint.

"On or about June 8, 2007, at Judge Kent’s request and upon notice from the Committee, Judge Kent appeared before the Committee...

"Judge Kent falsely stated to the Committee that the extent of his unwanted sexual contact with Donna Wilkerson was one kiss....

"Judge Kent falsely stated to the Committee that when told by Donna Wilkerson his advances were unwelcome no further contact occurred, when in fact and as he knew, Judge Kent continued such advances even after she asked him to stop."

Finally, on February 3, 2009, just as his trial was set to begin and with his victims unnecessarily put to the humiliation and stress of having to prepare testimony on such horrific private crimes, Kent finagled a plea agreement in which 5 sex-crime charges were dropped. His part: he fessed-up and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and non-consensual sexual contact with Ms McBroom and unwanted sexual contact with Ms Wilkerson.

But he dodged another bullet, evading a possible 20-year prison term and was sentenced to a measly 33-month in prison.

Luckily for justice, that was not enough for the boys on Capitol Hill in Washington who pushed impeachment proceedings. Kent decided to not attend the impeachment hearings but sent a letter whining about his health preventing him to travel. He tried to blame his criminal conduct on the stress of his wife's brain cancer, and alcohol.

Kent was formally impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on June 19, 2009. Impeachment was important as it meant that Kent lost his judge's salary.

To avoid further disciplinary action, Kent then resigned from the State Bar of Texas in April 2009.

Kent did get one thing from the feds though, a federal inmate number: 45225-079. In prison, he was quick to demand what he never gave his victims - a reprieve from what many Texans must of taken rough justice:

"As a prisoner, former U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent has been shunted into solitary confinement, forced to hear the screams of another inmate being raped and ordered by a 'cruel' sergeant in the Florida prison system to do calisthenics in the nude, according to allegations in a federal court memorandum filed Tuesday. Kent has requested that his 33-month sentence be vacated and adjusted based on his allegations of inhumane and unfair treatment."3

Sam Kent was released from prison on April 11, 2011.

As of January 2013, he is believed to be spending his time at his vacation home near Fort Davis, Texas.

REFERENCES:

  • Buchhandler-Raphael, Michal, Failure of Consent: Re-Conceptualizing Rape as Sexual Abuse of Power, 18 Mich. J. Gender & L. 147 (2011-2012)
  • NOTE 1: As quoted by Ted Stield in Judicial Hyperactivity in the Federal Circuit: An Empirical Study, 46 U.S.F. L. Rev. 721 (2011-2012)
  • NOTE 2: Labor Force Inc. v Jacintoport Corp., 2001, quoted at Richmond, Douglas, Bullies on the Bench, 72 La. L. Rev. 325 (2012)
  • NOTE 3: Lisa Olsen as quoted at Strutin, Ken, Realignment of Incarcerative Punishment: Sentencing Reform and the Conditions of Confinement, 38 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 1313 (2011-2012).
  • Olsen, Lisa, From Nude Photos to Lying: Federal Judge Under Scrutiny, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 13, 2008
  • United States House of Representatives, 111th Congress, 1st Session, Report - Impeachment of Judge Samuel B. Kent, 17 June 2009 (accompanying resolution 520)

Published: Sunday, January 06, 2013
Last updated: Saturday, April 20, 2013
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