Indicted judge set to go on trial

HOUSTON (AP) âÄî U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent will be making judicial history when he enters a courtroom Monday âÄî but it wonâÄôt be the kind heâÄôll want to remember. Kent will join the handful of federal judges who have taken part in a trial as a defendant, and he will be the first to face trial on a sex crime charge. The 59-year-old judge is accused of fondling two female court employees as he tried to force himself on the women and have them perform sex acts. Jury selection in his trial was set to begin Monday. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Kent has pleaded innocent to five charges related to federal sex crimes and to one alleging obstruction of justice, in which he is accused of lying to an investigative committee. His nearly 19 years on the bench might buy him some credibility with the jury, said Barry Pollack, an attorney not connected to the case. âÄúWhat you might see happen is the jury take the presumption of innocence a little more seriously,âÄù said Pollack, with the Washington firm of Miller & Chevalier. âÄúBut if the allegations are proven, the jury would be very offended a federal judge engaged in that conduct.âÄù A gag order in the case has prevented prosecutors, defense attorneys and others connected to the case from commenting outside court. Kent wants to testify, his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said during a hearing last week in which he unsuccessfully tried to have the obstruction charge thrown out or severed. âÄúJudge Kent believes his conduct with both of the (women) was mutual and consensual,âÄù said DeGuerin, who has represented such high-profile clients as former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Branch Davidian sect leader David Koresh. KentâÄôs former case manager, Cathy McBroom, filed a complaint against him in May 2007 and the Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals began an investigation. The Associated Press does not normally name alleged victims of sexual abuse, but McBroomâÄôs attorney and her family have used her name in publicly discussing the case. The other woman was identified in court last week as KentâÄôs former secretary. McBroom accused Kent of harassing 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. The judicial council suspended Kent in September 2007 for four months with pay but didnâÄôt detail the allegations against him. It also transferred him 50 miles northwest from Galveston, where he had worked since being appointed in 1990, to Houston. A Justice Department investigation of McBroomâÄôs claims led to KentâÄôs indictment in August on three 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. DeGuerin has said Kent and his secretary were involved in a longtime affair and that she is one of his âÄústaunchest supporters.âÄù De Guerin said Kent didnâÄôt mention the affair to the judicial council out of the concern a âÄúgentlemanâÄù would have for keeping it secret. DeGuerin has indicated he plans to call several expert witnesses who will testify they have been treating Kent for impotence since 1999. Prosecutors have discounted that, saying: âÄúNeither erectile dysfunction … nor any other physical or mental conditions cited by the defendant prevented him from committing the charged offenses.âÄù KentâÄôs attorneys subpoenaed McBroomâÄôs personal records, including her credit history, âÄúwhich could be relevant to her general credibility,âÄù they wrote in a motion last month. Prosecutors responded that a victimâÄôs credit history is irrelevant to sexual assault charges.