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On May 11, 2009, Judge Kent was sentenced to 33 months in prison for lying to investigators about sexually abusing two female employees. Dick DeGuerin, Kent's attorney, said the judge would retire from the bench because of a disability, rather than resign, which would have enabled Kent to continue to receive his $169,300 annual salary for life. That did not satisfy the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, Representatives John Conyers Jr., (D-Mich.) and Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), who demanded that Kent resign immediately or face impeachment.
Judge Kent submitted his resignation on June 2, 2009, with the provision that it would not take effect for a full year. This angered the membership of the House Judiciary Committee, which voted unanimously to send four Articles of Impeachment to the full House of Representatives on June 10, 2009. The articles were passed on June 19, 2009, making Judge Kent the first federal judge to be impeached since Walter L. Nixon, Jr. in 1989. Kent thereafter submitted a new letter of resignation to the Senate on June 25, 2009, taking effect on June 30, 2009. On June 30, President Barack Obama accepted his resignation. On July 20, the House of Representatives passed a resolution asking the Senate to end former Judge Kent's trial. Two days later, the Senate agreed to the resolution.
Kent became well known throughout the legal community for his unique orders and judgments--sometimes taking the form of humor, as in his orders in Bolivia v. Philip Morris Companies, Inc. and Smith v. Colonial Penn Life Insurance. and at other times serving as ridicule aimed at the attorneys appearing before him, as in Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp. and Labor Force, Inc. v. Jacintoport Corp. et al.
2001 case reassignment
In 2001, the Chief Judge of the Southern District of Texas reassigned 85 cases away from Kent that were being handled by Richard Melancon, an attorney who was considered a close friend of Kent.
2007 misconduct discipline
In August 2007, Chief Judge Hayden Head of the Southern District of Texas issued an order indicating that Kent would not be hearing cases between September 1, 2007 and January 1, 2008. During Kent's four-month leave of absence, he continued to draw his annual salary. He did not perform judicial work, with his cases instead allocated to other judges. Kent was transferred to the Houston division of the Southern District of Texas in January 2008.
On December 20, 2007, the 5th Circuit issued an order indicating that there was an ongoing Department of Justice criminal investigation into the allegations underlying a complaint to the Judicial Council regarding Kent.
On August 28, 2008, Kent was indicted in federal court on three counts of abusive sexual contact and attempted aggravated sexual abuse, stemming from the same alleged conduct that was the basis for the 2007 misconduct complaint. He was the first federal judge to be charged with federal sex crimes. On January 6, 2009, the federal grand jury that indicted him added three additional counts, for aggravated sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact and obstruction of justice. On February 23, 2009, the day on which jury selection was to begin, Kent pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, and agreed to retire as judge, although it was unclear whether he would be permitted to retire rather than resign. Kent was sentenced on May 11, 2009.
Although Kent purported to "retire", the minimum age at which a federal judge may retire with a pension is generally age 65, a condition that Kent, at age 59, did not meet. An exception allowing for early retirement is available where the judge seeking to retire certifies to the President that he is "permanently disabled from performing his duties," supplying a certification to that effect issued by the chief judge of the circuit. However, in May 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in an opinion written by Chief JudgeEdith Jones, denied Kent's disability status, and instead recommended his impeachment.
Kent continued to draw his salary until the effective date of his resignation on June 30, 2009. Had he not resigned, he would have been paid until convicted by the Senate in his impeachment trial. The requirement of Article III that federal judges "shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office" may preclude action against his salary barring impeachment. Despite Kent's retirement, had he been impeached and convicted, he would have lost his retirement benefits.
Kent pleaded guilty in February 2009 to obstruction of justice for lying to a judicial committee investigating an allegation he sexually harassed an employee. He also acknowledged that he had had non-consensual sexual contact with two female employees between 2003 and 2007. He was sentenced on May 11, 2009, to serve 33 months in federal prison on the charge of obstructing justice in the investigation of the sexual abuse accusations. The obstruction charge carried a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison. As part of a plea agreement, Kent admitted that the sexual conduct was non-consensual. Kent had to pay a $1,000 fine and a total of $6,550 in restitution to the two victims. While in prison he was required to take part in the Bureau of Prisons Alcohol Treatment Program. In pronouncing sentence over Kent, visiting Judge Roger Vinson stated, "Your wrongful conduct is a huge black X ... a stain on the judicial system itself, a matter of concern in the federal courts". On June 15, 2009, Kent reported to the Federal Medical Center, Devens in Devens, Massachusetts to begin his sentence. In November 2009, he was moved to a state prison in Florida and held in solitary confinement for his own safety.
In July 2011, Kent was released on furlough to attend his daughter's wedding, after which he served out the remainder of his sentence confined to his home in West Texas. His sentence was completed November 4, 2011.
The start of proceedings
On May 12, 2009, soon after Kent was sentenced to 33 months in prison, Representatives John Conyers, Jr. and James Sensenbrenner introduced separate resolutions (H.Res. 424 and H.Res. 431), which were referred the House Judiciary Committee which two days later voted to begin impeachment proceedings as a reaction to Kent's refusal to resign.
On May 27, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recommended that Kent be impeached and ordered that he not be given disability status. Chief Judge Edith Jones wrote that "a claimant should not profit from his own wrongdoing by engaging in criminal misconduct and then collecting a federal retirement salary for the disability related to the prosecution". Jones also noted that Kent did not appear to be disabled or impaired. The Fifth Circuit's Judicial Council urged the Judicial Conference of the United States to "take expeditious action" toward impeachment proceedings before Congress.
First resignation and congressional hearings
On June 2, 2009, Judge Kent submitted his resignation to President Obama in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid hearings in Congress. The resignation, had it not been precluded by removal from office, would have been effective as of June 1, 2010.
Chaired by Representative Adam Schiff, the hearings featured testimony from his accusers, Cathy McBroom and Donna Wilkerson.
On June 9, the Task Force unanimously voted to report four articles to the full House Judiciary Committee. The next day, the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to send them to the full House.
Impeachment, Senate trial, and second resignation
The House Managers wait to take the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate on June 24. First row: Bob Goodlatte and Adam Schiff, lead Managers. Second row: Jim Sensenbrenner and Zoe Lofgren.
The vote for impeachment in the House was scheduled to take place on June 18, but it was postponed until the next day due to prolonged debate over an appropriations bill. All four articles of impeachment were passed by the House of Representatives, three unanimously and one having only a single member, Mel Watt (D-NC), voting "present". After the articles were approved, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) were appointed as managers to conduct the trial in the Senate, with Schiff and Goodlatte being designated as lead managers. The articles of impeachment were sent to the Senate, where the proceedings were started on June 24. On that day, Senators passed two resolutions: one providing for a summons for Kent to answer the articles against him, and the other providing for a committee to analyze the evidence against him and report their findings to the full Senate. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Mel Martinez (R-FL) were designated as Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the committee. On June 25, when Senate officials traveled to the prison facility where Kent was confined to serve him with the formal summons to the impeachment trial, he presented them with a new resignation letter, effective on June 30. The development was reported to the Senate, which directed that copies of Kent's letter be sent to President Obama and the House of Representatives. On June 30, President Obama accepted his resignation and on July 20, the House of Representatives passed a resolution asking the Senate to end the impeachment trial against Kent. The Senate agreed to the resolution on July 22.
^ abPaschenko, Chris (2009-07-22). "Congress wrapping up business on Kent". Galveston County Daily News. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved . On Tuesday, the House approved without objection a resolution to end impeachment proceedings against Kent, who was on the bench in Galveston for almost 20 years.
^e.g., "The Court seriously doubts whether Brazoria County has ever seen a live Bolivian . . . even on the Discovery Channel."; "[T]his humble Court by the sea is certainly flattered by what must be the worldwide renown of rural Texas courts for dispensing justice with unparalleled fairness and alacrity, apparently in common discussion even on the mountain peaks of Bolivia."; and "Plaintiff has an embassy in Washington D.C...., whereas there isn't even a Bolivian restaurant anywhere near here!" Republic of Bolivia v. Philip Morris Companies, Inc., et al., case no. G-99-110, S.D. Tex., Order of TransferArchived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine (March 1, 1999)
^"Defendant should be assured that it is not embarking on a three-week-long trip via covered wagons when it travels to Galveston. Rather, Defendant will be pleased to discover that the highway is paved and lighted all the way to Galveston, and thanks to the efforts of this Court's predecessor, Judge Roy Bean, the trip should be free of rustlers, hooligans, or vicious varmints of unsavory kind." Smith v. Colonial Penn Life Insurance, case no. G-96-503, S.D. Tex., Order Denying Motion to Transfer (Nov. 6, 1996)
^"Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact - complete with hats, handshakes, and cryptic words - to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed." Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp., case no. G-00-558, S.D. Tex.,Order Granting Defendant's Motion For Summary JudgmentArchived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine (June 27, 2001)
^"Manifestly, any person with even a correspondence-course level understanding of federal practice and procedure would recognize that Defendant's Motion is patently insipid, ludicrous and utterly and unequivocally without any merit whatsoever.... Defendant's obnoxiously ancient, boilerplate, inane Motion is emphatically DENIED. Moreover, Defendant's present counsel-of-record, Mr. [redacted] is determined to be disqualified for cause from this action for submitting this asinine tripe." Labor Force, Inc. v. Jacintoport Corp. et al., case no. G-01-058, S.D. Tex., Order Denying Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or Transfer Venue and Ordering Substitution of Counsel-Of-RecordArchived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine