Judge Kent Pleads Guilty to Obstruction

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U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a plea deal that avoids a trial scheduled to begin today.

The plea resolves five other charges of aggravated sexual abuse based on allegations Kent fondled two court employees, the Houston Chronicle reports. The obstruction charge is based on accusations Kent lied in a court internal probe of sexual abuse allegations. The government is seeking a three-year prison term when Kent is sentenced on May 11, although the charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, Texas Lawyer reports.

Kent’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, says his client intends to retire from the bench, the Texas Lawyer story says.

DeGuerin said last week that his client’s contact with the women was consensual, and he was merely trying to protect one of the women when he lied in the court investigation.

Kent usually speaks loudly and clearly, but he nearly whispered his guilty plea today, the Chronicle says.

After the court hearing, DeGuerin read a statement to reporters, according to the Chronicle report. “A trial would have been long, embarrassing and difficult for all involved,” he said.

Legal experts have said prosecutors upped the ante when they charged Kent under a section of the obstruction law that was strengthened after the collapse of Enron. “It’s the Martha Stewart case,” said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers in an interview with the Houston Chronicle last month. “You can prove obstruction sometimes even when there is no underlying crime.”

Also See:

DOJ Release: U.S. District Court Judge Pleads Guilty to Obstruction of Justice

Last updated at 3:20 p.m. to include the DOJ press release.

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