Samuel B. Kent called himself the Lion King, King Kent, the emperor of Galveston. He liked to tell anyone who would listen that he was the government. History, however, will remember him by another nickname, the sex judge.
Born in Denver, but raised in Houston, Kent was all Texas. At 6’4″ he was part of a state champion basketball team in Houston, attended the University of Texas in Austin where he was an English major, and later graduated from UT Law School. After graduation he moved to Galveston where he worked for a private law firm. A member of the Republican Party, he was nominated by George Bush and confirmed as U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Texas in 1990. While it is common for district courts to have multiple judges, Kent was the only show in town in Galveston.
In a 2009 story in Texas Monthly (Perversion of Justice), Skip Hollandsworth, describes Kent’s behavior: “As the most powerful jurist in Galveston, Judge Samuel Kent intimidated everyone: the lawyers who argued cases before him, the defendants and plaintiffs who appeared in his courtroom—and the female courthouse employees he groped, kissed, and forced himself on when no one was looking. Imperious, charismatic, and seemingly above the law, he almost got away with it. Until one woman decided to fight back.”
That woman was Kathy McBroom. McBroom, a married woman with three children, was hired in 2002 to be Kent’s case manager.
Based on her later testimony in court and in Congress, Hollandsworth describes what happened:
“Almost exactly one year after she’d taken the job, on a Friday afternoon in August 2003, Cathy was walking down the hall when she saw the judge, who had just stepped out of his private elevator. She snapped to attention. He was returning from a long lunch with friends, and as usual a courthouse security officer was accompanying him to his chambers. The judge saw Cathy and waved at her. ‘I hear there’s a new exercise room somewhere around here,’ he said. ‘Want to show it to me?’
“‘It’s right here,’ said Cathy, opening the door to a small room that had recently been equipped with a weight bench and some free weights. It was barely ten feet from the command center where the security officers worked, and she quickly led the way in. Suddenly, before she could utter a cry, the judge grabbed her, holding her head with one hand and lifting her up to crush her mouth against his. With his other hand he yanked up her blouse and bra, then tried to force his way into her skirt, tearing at her panty hose.”
Hollandsworth goes on: “It became a predictable cycle: After several months of model behavior, the judge would suddenly make a move. Pin her against a wall. Grope her through her clothes. Tell her that he wanted to give her oral sex and have her return the favor. The following day he’d apologize, promising with a shrug that it would not happen again.”
McBroom shared her story with Kent’s secretary Donna Wilkerson. Wilkerson’s response, “Me too.” McBroom filed a complaint in 2007. A year later Kent was indicted on three counts of aggravated sexual abuse. In 2009, a federal grand jury added three additional counts including another count of aggravated sexual abuse as well as abusive sexual contact and obstruction of justice.
As rumors circulated that there were some six other women ready and willing to testify against Kent, he entered a plea bargain, pleading guilty to the one count of obstruction of justice for lying to the court about his abuse. He also had to issue a statement acknowledging that he had “non-consensual sexual contact” with McBroom and Wilkerson. He was sentenced to 33 months in prison.
Kent’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, appealed to the court that his client suffered from “depression, alcoholism, diabetes and bipolar disease.” He asked that rather than resign, he be allowed to claim disability. That would allow him to collect his $169k salary for the rest of his life. One response came from the Houston Chronicle editorial writers “Cry us a river. Judge Kent’s predicament leaves us completely unmoved. He put himself there and deserves the ultimate constitutional penalty for misconduct by a federal judge—impeachment by Congress.”
After that appeal was denied, Kent submitted his resignation, dated one year from the date it was submitted. It is that forward-looking resignation, one that would allow Kent to collect his salary for a year while in jail, that prompted impeachment proceedings in Congress.
CNN covered the proceeding before the House Judiciary Committee. DeGuerin issued this statement via email: “”Judge Kent and I refuse to be part of the circus. All sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Kent were dismissed in court. The highly exaggerated, yet salacious and scandalous testimony of his former personal secretary and his former case manager is irrelevant to the grounds for impeachment and served no purpose other than to allow a few politicians to posture publicly.”
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas offered a different view: “Judge Kent receives $465 of his taxpayer-funded salary every day he remains in office. We are here today to put an end to Judge Kent’s abuse of authority and exploitation of American taxpayers.”
Kathy McBroom and Donna Wilkerson sat side-by-side and testified before the committee. The result was that the committee voted unanimously to send four articles of impeachment to the full house. The proceedings were chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff, who would later fill the same role for the Trump I impeachment. Two of those articles referred to Kent’s abuse of the two women, the other two concerned his false statements and obstruction of justice. Three of the articles were approved unanimously while the fourth received one “present” vote.
Schiff brought the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. On June 25, 2009, Senate representatives went to the facility where Kent was being held to serve a summons to appear at the trial. Instead, they got a new resignation letter, this one to take effect June 30. The House then passed a resolution asking the Senate to end the proceedings, which they did.
Meanwhile, the deposed judge was finding that in jail he was no longer King Kent. Kent had unsuccessfully appealed to have his sentence reconsidered, arguing that as a prisoner and ex-judge, he suffered inhumane conditions akin to torture in correctional facilities in Florida and elsewhere. In 2010, Kent filed a petition for a rehearing, arguing that he had been unjustly shunted into solitary confinement, forced to hear the screams of another inmate being raped and ordered by a ‘cruel’ sergeant in the Florida prison system to do calisthenics in the nude. The petition was denied. (Chron.com)
Kent served 29 months of his 33-month sentence. He was released in July of 2011 and was confined to his vacation home in West Texas for the remainder of his sentence. Little information about Kent is available after that, but apparently he led a quiet life in his West Texas home.
Following the Kent case, the Galveston bench was eliminated. Both McBroom and Wilerson got similar jobs at the federal courthouse in Houston.