Kent pleads guilty as sexual assault trial set to begin

Marilyn Tennissen Feb. 23, 2009, 1:00pm

Samuel Kent

As a judge, Samuel Kent probably saw many defendants take a last minute plea agreement as jurors filed into the courthouse. This time it was Kent himself that pleaded guilty just as a jury was being selected to hear charges that he sexually assaulted female employees.

Kent, a federal judge for the Southern District of Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice in exchange for the dismissal of five felony charges brought two female employees who said he groped them and made unwanted sexual advances while they worked at the courthouse.

Kent also retired from the bench, according to a story in the Houston Chronicle.

At a press conference, Kent's attorney Dick DeGuerin said the judge felt the agreement was in the best interest of all the parties.

"A trial would have been long, embarrassing and difficult for all involved," DeGuerin said.

Kent was indicted by a grand jury in August on charges of abusive sexual contact and attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a female employee, making him the first federal judge to be charged with federal sex crimes. In January he was indicted on additional felony charges brought by another courthouse employee.

The second indictment also included an obstruction of justice charge for lying to a judicial review panel about the sexual allegations. It was the obstruction of justice charge that Kent pleaded guilty to on Feb. 23.

He faces up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge, but according to the Chronicle, prosecutors have suggested a three year sentence. Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who was appointed to handle the proceedings, is not bound by the prosecution's recommendation. Sentencing is scheduled for May.

Kent did not have to state his crimes in court, but signed a statement admitting he had non-consensual sex with two former female employees between 2003 and 2007, the Chronicle reported.

Kent, 59, was appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and was the sole district federal judge in Galveston for many years before being transferred to Houston.

Since he was appointed for life, he will continue to be on the federal payroll and receive retirment benefits unless he is impeached by Congress.

More News