Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Ex-judge Samuel Kent

A federal judge in Texas goes to prison this week, having pled guilty to obstruction-of-justice charges during an investigation of sexual harassment:

Judge Samuel Kent admitted to sexually harassing and abusing two female members of his staff, and was convicted of obstruction of justice. He is scheduled to report to prison Monday, but he has refused to step down and give up his salary until next year.

Wait, a moment: rewind that. How does he “refuse to step down” if he’s being sent to prison? Say what?

It’s actually pretty straightforward, and the reasons for the rule make sense when you think about it in a different context: federal judges are appointed by the President of the United States, and confirmed to lifetime positions by the U.S. Senate. They can often be unpopular locally, butting heads with politicians and other influential folks, and there need to be protections against their being taken down by local officials.

If a state court could remove a federal judge from office, that would, in general, be a bad thing. And, so, either he has to resign or he has to be impeached, or else he keeps his position... and his salary.

Of course, an ethical judge would do the right thing, here, and resign. But if Judge Kent were ethical, he wouldn’t have played grab-ass with his female staff for years, and he wouldn’t have lied to federal investigators.

But what surprises me are the comments by two of his supporters. I certainly expect his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, to take his side — it is the attorney’s job, after all — but a comment such as this is simply ridiculous:

How many times do you have to kick a man when he’s down? Sam Kent stepped up, took responsibility for what’s he done and he’s going to prison for it. Why do you have to totally humiliate him to boot?
“Totally humiliate him”? Well, no, we’re just expecting him not to continue being a judge and taking up a spot on the bench and a salary, after admitting what he’s admitted, after demonstrating unethical and illegal behaviour that doesn’t fit into what we demand of a judge.

And then there’s the comment of Paul Nugent, “a well-regarded Houston trial lawyer who has known Kent for decades.”

You know his wife, his high school sweetheart and the love of his life got brain cancer for five years. Judge Kent struggled with that.

Eventually, she was confined to a wheelchair, was incontinent and couldn’t talk. Now that took a toll on him. I’m not excusing anything Judge Kent may have done. I’m not excusing any law violations he committed, but it’s not just black and white.

What is it that Mr Nugent thinks is “not just black and white”? Why, exactly, does he think that any of what he said should allow Mr Kent to continue holding his judgeship? Should he adjudicate from prison? Should he be placed back on the bench when he gets out?

The very idea is laughable.

But here’s the really bizarre thing: because Samuel Kent is a wealthy and influential man, people are trying to come up with excuses for giving him special treatment. Does anyone think that if we were talking about a poor man of Mexican or African descent, who works at the hardware store, anyone would be suggesting that his job should be protected and his salary paid while he’s in prison?

Let’s consider what fairness really means, here: Samuel Kent has totally humiliated himself, after abusing and humiliating women on his staff for years. He gets no special treatment just because he used to be in a position of trust and honour in the community.

No comments: