NOW takes Kent complaint to Congress
Published October 2, 2007
The National Organization of Women said Monday it was asking Congress to investigate whether U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent should be impeached and removed from the bench.
Kent’s reprimand made him unfit, especially when it comes to hearing sexual harassment cases, Kim Gandy, president of the half-million member organization, said in an interview from Washington, D.C.
“If he’s found to have committed sexual harassment himself, one can reasonably conclude that he does not consider that a serious issue,” Gandy said.
Kent was reprimanded last Friday by a council of judges from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and district judges from the circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
It’s the most severe punishment levied against any judge in the 5th Circuit in the past seven years out of 671 complaints filed. The only way judges can be forced off the bench is if they are impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and removed by the Senate. Only 13 federal judges have been impeached and only seven removed in U.S. history.
The reprimand against Kent says a court employee complained in May of sexual harassment and that an investigation led to other, unspecified complaints. The order issued last Friday didn’t say whether the 19 judges on the council determined the complaints to be true.
Kent and his lawyer, Maria Boyce, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Kent’s former case manager, Cathy McBroom, 49, in May filed a sexual harassment complaint against the judge. That led to other complaints, the order said.
“If they went beyond the one complainant, that makes you think the allegation’s pretty serious and she provided them with additional names,” Gandy said.
Federal judges are appointed for life. In Kent’s case, President George H.W. Bush appointed him in 1990.
National Organization of Women staffers on Monday forwarded the order reprimanding Kent and news coverage of it to the House Judiciary Committee’s staff and to U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., its chairman.
The committee is usually where impeachment proceedings start in Congress. It can investigate whether impeachment is warranted in Kent’s case.
“From what little I’ve heard, it certainly sounds like he’s unfit to sit on the federal bench and is an embarrassment to the president who appointed him and the Senate that confirmed him,” Gandy said. She worked in New Orleans both as a prosecutor and as a lawyer who’s handled sexual harassment cases.
Not only is the women’s organization frustrated with the 5th Circuit’s vaguely worded order, but also it’s incensed by the punishment Kent received: the reprimand, four months off the bench with pay and other, unspecified “remedial” measures. Kent is due to return to the bench Jan. 1.
“The idea that any employee who has been found to engage in sufficient misconduct to justify a reprimand and a suspension from employment would then continue to draw a full salary from the taxpayers during that suspension is a shocking idea,” Gandy said. “It’s an outrage. He could go travel the world for four months. That’s not a punishment, that’s a reward.”