On October 31, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) formally requested that the House Judiciary Committee open an investigative file on U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent, of Galveston, Texas, regarding sexual harassment complaints. Kent was reprimanded by and suspended from the bench by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on September 28, 2007, but that suspension ends on January 1, 2008.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) applauds Congresswoman Jackson Lee for taking this crucial step, noting as a member of the Judiciary Committee that it is their “obligation as members of the U.S. Congress to do all in our power to prevent all forms of sexual harassment, especially in the judicial arena, which is entrusted to administer these very laws which have allegedly been violated and over which we have oversight.”
“There are just too many questions unanswered,” said NOW President Kim Gandy. “The Judicial Council’s secretive investigation, cryptic report and sealed records leaves the women of Texas wondering whether there might be a sexual harasser of court employees on the bench deciding federal cases of employment discrimination and harassment. They deserve to know the truth, and if these concerns are valid, they deserve to have reasonable action taken to prevent such an outcome.”
“We know that the Judicial Council investigation went beyond the initial complaint by court employee Cathy McBroom, and encompassed other employee complaints. And we know that the four-month suspension they meted out was the most severe in many years, but the judge’s accusers and the public in general are not privy to these determinations. Just because Judge Kent is a federal judge does not mean he is above the law, although it does mean that he gets paid for life whether he sits in court, sits at home or sits in jail. Congress has to impeach a federal judge to remove him from the bench,” said Gandy.
“NOW has been following the charges since they became public in September, working with Rep. Jackson Lee’s office and contacting other members of Congress to promote a Judiciary Committee inquiry into allegations against Judge Kent,” continued Gandy. “If the Judiciary Committee investigation establishes that Judge Kent is indeed a sexual harasser, we urge that formal impeachment and removal proceedings begin immediately. It will be up to Committee Chair John Conyers to take action and maintain public confidence in the federal court system.”
The initial charges against Judge Kent were brought after McBroom, Kent’s court case manager, filed a complaint on May 21 alleging that he had sexually harassed her. The Fifth Circuit investigation reportedly was expanded to include allegations that he had inappropriately touched other court employees. By August, all Kent’s pending cases were shifted to other judges. Since the Fifth Circuit’s strong reprimand in September, Judge Kent has been on a fourth-month suspension with full pay, and will return to trying cases on Jan. 2. The latest twist in the case revolves around Kent’s transfer to Houston, to the same court building where McBroom had transferred.
“This transfer looks like a way to punish Ms. McBroom, and a way to intimidate other employees from reporting abuse,” says Gandy. “It sends a message that lodging a complaint against any federal officer will be taken lightly at the best, and turned back on them at the worst. It is unconscionable to see that our federal courts, and their in-house watchdog panels, are protecting their own instead of the public.”