House committee sends judge's impeachment to House
WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee unanimously approved four articles of impeachment against a federal judge Wednesday in an attempt to remove him from office for lying about sexually assaulting two women.
The House Judiciary Committee sent the articles of impeachment against U.S District Judge Samuel Kent of Texas to the House on a 29-0 vote. The House could vote as early as next week. If the full House votes to approve the impeachment charges, the Senate would conduct a trial.
If approved by the House, the impeachment would be the first of a federal judge in 20 years.
The impeachment articles allege that Kent sexually assaulted two female employees and lied about the sexual assaults to a federal court of appeals investigative committee, twice to the FBI, and to Justice Department officials.
Kent is scheduled to go to prison June 15 to serve a 33-month sentence. The 59-year-old jurist pleaded guilty in court last month to lying to the judicial panel about the sexual assaults.
As part of his plea bargain, Kent admitted that he tried to force Cathy McBroom, his former case manager, into unwanted sex acts in 2003 and 2007, and did the same with Donna Wilkerson, his secretary, from 2004 through at least 2005.
The Associated Press does not normally name alleged victims of sexual abuse, but McBroom's attorney and her family have used her name publicly in discussing the case. Wilkerson knew her lawyer gave her name to reporters during Kent's trial.
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said testimony last week from McBroom and Wilkerson was troubling, "especially because Samuel Kent abused his authority as a federal judge to intimidate his staff into silence."
Dick DeGuerin, Kent's attorney, sent a letter to the committee late Tuesday saying the women's testimony was "greatly exaggerated and flatly false." He denied allegations that Kent had used racial slurs against African Americans, saying Kent has been given many awards by the NAACP.
DeGuerin said Kent's guilty plea is sufficient grounds for impeachment — akin to indictment by a grand jury — but may not be sufficient grounds for conviction in the Senate.
Kent had hoped to retire on disability after his conviction so he could continue to collect his $174,000 a year salary and retirement benefits. But a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judicial panel rejected the request.
Kent would not collect his retirement benefits or salary if he resigns, which is what several lawmakers want. Last week, Kent sent President Barack Obama a letter saying he would resign in June 2010.
But Smith and other lawmakers want him forced out sooner.
Smith has repeatedly said in hearings and statements that Kent will collect $465 a day of his taxpayer-funded salary while in jail.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who presided over the committee meeting, said evidence collected for the impeachment was "copious and sobering" and made a strong case that impeachment is appropriate and necessary.
"He has come close to admitting he assaulted the women," the New York Democrat said.
The Judicial Conference, a panel of appeals judges led by Chief Justice John Roberts, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Tuesday saying it had determined "consideration of impeachment may be warranted."