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Federal Judge Arraigned on New Charges; Bond Hearing Closed to Public

Posted Jan 7, 2009 12:52 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A federal judge in Texas pleaded not guilty this morning to new sex and obstruction charges related to his alleged mistreatment of a court employee. The hearing was held in Houston before Judge Edward Prado of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit court of Appeals. Prado flew in from San Antonio to handle U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent's arraignment.

Kent's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, asked that a subsequent hearing about the conditions of Kent's bond be held publicly, because a gag order prevents lawyers from explaining what is happening in the case, reports the Houston Chronicle. But Prado agreed to a request by U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors that the courtroom be cleared of reporters and other members of the public for the 55-minute session.

The gag order restricting lawyers' public comments was issued previously by Judge Roger Vinson, as discussed in a previous ABAJournal.com post. A senior U.S. district judge from the Northern District of Florida, Vinson is overseeing an earlier federal criminal case against Kent in which he is accused of sexually abusing a different court worker.

Kent was indicted in August by a federal grand jury on charges of abusive sexual contact and aggravated sexual abuse, and the same grand jury added three new charges yesterday of aggravated sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact and obstruction of justice.

The earlier charges are based on complaints made by Kent's former case manager, Cathy McBroom, who has agreed to be named publicly. The new charges are based on complaints made by another female court worker who is not identified in the newspaper article.

In the new charges, Kent is accused of "forcing that employee to repeatedly 'engage in a sexual act,' including oral sex and using his hands to 'penetrate or attempt to penetrate' her," the Chronicle writes. All of the charges concern Kent's alleged conduct during a 17-year period when he was working in Galveston as the only federal district court judge there.

DeGuerin yesterday said he felt "disgust" at the new charges, and said the defense will be that the charges are "absolutely untrue" and "we believe the product of untoward pressure brought on the second complainant, a longtime and very close friend of the judge," the Chronicle reports.

Kent earlier pleaded "absolutely, unequivocally not guilty" to the original charges against him, and is scheduled to go to trial on those charges later this month. It isn't yet clear whether the trial will be delayed as a result of the new charges.

Kent remains on the bench in Houston, where he was transferred in 2007, although he no longer hears certain types of criminal cases. He was reprimanded in 2007 by the 5th Circuit's judicial council for sexual harassment.

Concerning the earlier charges, he was released on personal recognizance bond. Some conditions were under seal, but publicly he was required not to contact the alleged victim and to continue with treatment and medicine that is not specified by the Chronicle.

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