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Impeaching Judge Samuel B. Kent

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SCHIFF. I thank the gentleman and appreciate the great leadership of the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Today we find ourselves in the regrettable circumstance where we must act to remove a Federal judge from the bench. The task before us is not one we welcome, but it is an important responsibility that has been entrusted to us by the Founders and one which we must not shrink from.

Throughout our Nation's history, we have been fortunate to have a distinguished judiciary that has served as an essential and coequal branch of our government. We owe a great deal to the success of our representative democracy to the positive, thoughtful, and vital role played by the Nation's judges. To insulate members of the bench from political and other pressures, to ensure that judges are free to determine the justice of the cases before them on the basis of the law alone and no outside influence, Federal judges are appointed for life.

Unlike elected officials, who may be removed periodically by the voters or serve a term that comes to an end, the Founding Fathers provided only one extraordinary method of removing a Federal judge, that of impeachment. The President cannot remove a judge he has appointed or any other, and the courts cannot. Conviction of a Federal or State offense is also powerless to remove a judge from office. Only the Congress may remove a judge and only then upon impeachment of the House under article I, section 2 of the Constitution and conviction in the Senate for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors justifying their removal.

Because we have been blessed by an extraordinarily professional judiciary and because the bar for removal is high, the extraordinary remedy of impeachment of a Federal judge has been used only 13 times in the Nation's history. But the matter before us today warrants its use once again.

Last month, the House Judiciary Task Force on Judicial Impeachment was directed to inquire whether Judge Kent should be impeached. As the chairman of the task force, I would like to report on our work and provide the Members of the House with a procedural history of the matter as well as an overview of the relevant facts. As a task force, we were extremely well-served by the very capable ranking member from Virginia, Bob Goodlatte, and have worked to proceed in a fair, open, and deliberate manner, and we have done so on a bipartisan, really nonpartisan, basis.

Samuel Kent was appointed to the Federal bench in 1990 and served in the Galveston courthouse in the Southern District of Texas. During that time, he was generally the sole judicial officer in the courthouse, an imposing figure who exercised a substantial degree of influence and control both inside and outside of the courtroom.

At some point in 2001, Judge Kent began sexually assaulting at least two women employees who served in the courthouse. These repeated assaults occurred through at least May of 2007, when one of the victims, Cathy McBroom, filed a judicial misconduct complaint with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit alleging sexual misconduct on the part of Judge Kent. In response, the Judicial Council of that circuit appointed a Special Investigative Committee to investigate the complaint.

On June 8, 2007, Judge Kent, pursuant to his own request, was interviewed by the Special Investigative Committee of that circuit. They sought to learn from Judge Kent whether he had engaged in unwanted sexual contact with Ms. McBroom or others. During the interview, Judge Kent made material false statements about the extent of his nonconsensual contact with Ms. McBroom. He was also questioned about another female employee in the courthouse, his secretary Donna Wilkerson, and told the investigative committee that once Ms. Wilkerson informed him that his advances were unwelcome, no further sexual contact had occurred, when, in fact, he continued his nonconsensual sexual contacts with both Ms. McBroom and Ms. Wilkerson.

The Department of Justice commenced a criminal investigation relating to Judge Kent's conduct as well. In November 2007, Judge Kent asked for and was granted an interview with the FBI. During the voluntary interview that he had requested, he was asked about his alleged conduct and repeated the same material false statements he had made to the Fifth Circuit.

In August of 2008, Judge Kent, through his attorney, asked for a meeting at the Department of Justice. And at this meeting he sat down with his attorney, an FBI agent, and representatives of the Department of Justice, and again Judge Kent made material false statements about the nature and extent of his nonconsensual sexual contact with Ms. McBroom and Ms. Wilkerson.

Intimidated by Judge Kent and worried about losing her job, Ms. Wilkerson was not initially candid with investigators and law enforcement when questioned about Judge Kent's conduct towards her. In fact, it was not until her third grand jury appearance that Ms. Wilkerson was willing to reveal the full extent of sexual assault she endured from Judge Kent.

On August 28, a Federal grand jury returned a multi-count indictment against Judge Kent, and on January 6 the grand jury issued a superseding indictment against Judge Kent alleging counts of aggravated sexual abuse as well as obstruction of justice and abusive sexual contact.

On February 23, the day his criminal trial was set to begin, Judge Kent pled guilty to obstruction of justice. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Judge Kent knowingly, voluntarily, and truthfully admitted having nonconsensual sexual contact with both women and obstructing justice in his testimony before the Fifth Circuit investigative committee.

On May 11, Judge Kent was sentenced to a term of 33 months in prison and ordered to pay fines and restitution. Judge Kent began his term of incarceration on June 15, this past Monday.

The day after sentencing, the House of Representatives directed the Judiciary Committee Impeachment Task Force to inquire whether Judge Kent should be impeached, and the task force held an evidentiary hearing on June 3, receiving testimony from Ms. McBroom and Ms. Wilkerson as well as Professor Arthur Hellman, a judicial impeachment scholar. Professor Hellman provided expert testimony that concluded that making false statements to fellow judges, as well as abusing his power as a Federal judge to sexually assault women, were independent grounds that would justify and warrant Judge Kent's impeachment and removal from office.

The task force invited Judge Kent to testify, but he declined our offer. The task force received correspondence from Judge Kent that was made available to all Members and was entered into the Record. The task force also invited Judge Kent's counsel to participate in the hearing and present arguments on behalf of his client as well as to provide the opportunity to question any of the witnesses, and Judge Kent's counsel also declined to appear or participate.

Subsequently, Judge Kent's counsel sent a letter to the committee questioning the veracity of the women and making an extraordinary admission that their testimony was unnecessary because, quoting from the letter: Judge Kent's guilty plea to the felony of obstruction presents sufficient grounds for impeachment.

The task force also received a letter from Judge Kent to the White House, dated June 2, stating his intention to resign June 1 a year from now. But neither his surrender to custody nor his stated intention to resign a year from now affect his current status as a Federal judge or a constitutional obligation to determine whether impeachment is warranted.

Our proceeding today does not constitute a trial, as the constitutional power to try impeachment resides in the Senate; rather, the House's role is to inquire whether Judge Kent's conduct provides a sufficient basis for impeachment. According to leading commentators and historical precedent on the issue, there are two broad categories of conduct that have been recognized as justifying impeachment: serious abuse of power and conduct that demonstrates an official is unworthy to fill the office that he or she holds.

Earlier this month, the Judicial Conference of the United States transmitted a certificate to the House certifying its determination that consideration of impeachment of Judge Kent may be warranted. After concluding that the full record establishes Judge Kent should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, the House Judiciary Task Force met on June 9 and voted unanimously in favor of recommending four Articles of Impeachment, which have been read before the House today. On June 10, the House Judiciary Committee ordered H. Res. 520 favorably reported by a rollcall of 29-0.

Judge Kent, incident to his position as a U.S. district judge, engaged in deplorable conduct with respect to employees associated with the court. Such conduct is incompatible with the trust and confidence placed in him as a judge. In particular, the record demonstrates that Judge Kent sexually assaulted two women who were both employees of the court. Furthermore, Judge Kent corruptly obstructed, influenced, or impeded an official proceeding by making false statements to the Special Investigative Committee of the Fifth Circuit and again by making false material statements to agents of the FBI and Department of Justice.

These acts of sexual assault and obstruction of justice are, as the judge who sentenced Mr. Kent to incarceration stated, ``a stain on the justice system itself.'' Were the House of Representatives to sit idly by and allow Mr. Kent to continue to hold the office of U.S. district judge while sitting in prison, and after committing such high crimes and misdemeanors, it would be a stain on the Congress as well.

Judge Kent's conduct was a disgrace to the bench. That he would still cling to the bench from the confines of his prison cell and ask the public, whose trust he has already betrayed, to continue paying his salary demonstrates how little regard he has for the institution he was supposed to serve.

I urge the House to approve each of the four Articles of Impeachment set out in House Resolution 520.


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