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Obstruction of Justice Charge Against US Judge ‘Upped the Ante’

Posted Jan 8, 2009 7:22 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The new obstruction of justice charge against U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent could be easier to prove and is potentially more damaging than the two charges of aggravated sexual abuse.

Legal experts told the Houston Chronicle that Kent was charged under a section of the obstruction law that was strengthened after the collapse of Enron. The crime carries a potential 20-year sentence.

Kent is accused of lying to a federal judicial panel investigating a claim of sexual abuse by a second complainant in 2007. The charge says Kent lied when he told the panel that the only unwelcome sexual advance was a spurned kiss, the story says.

University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur Hellman said the charge takes the government’s case beyond the “he said-she said” nature of the sexual charges involving two different complainants who worked at the court.

"Certainly the sexual charges are very serious. But obstruction of justice is a particularly serious charge when the accused is a federal judge," Hellman told the Chronicle. "If proved, his career—not just as a judge, but as a lawyer—would be over."

New York University law professor Stephen Gillers told the publication that the obstruction law used to charge Kent is very broad. "Obstruction is not terribly difficult to prove. It's the Martha Stewart case—you can prove obstruction sometimes even when there is no underlying crime," Gillers said.

Kent pleaded not guilty yesterday to the new obstruction and sex charges in a Houston hearing. Kent's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said the defense will be that the charges are "absolutely untrue."

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