A federal judge pleaded guilty Monday to lying to investigators by denying he sexually abused his secretary in exchange for prosecutors dropping five sex-crime charges alleging he groped the secretary and another female court employee.
U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent, the first federal judge charged with a sex crime, also retired, effective immediately, avoiding possible impeachment by Congress.
Kent's guilty plea to obstruction of justice came as jury selection for his trial was to begin.
The jurist, who once shouted in court that he would bring "hordes of witnesses" in his defense, spoke barely above a whisper as he pleaded guilty to lying to a judicial committee investigating the sex-related charges. . . . Kent, 59, had been facing six charges - five related to federal sex crimes and the obstruction charge. Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will seek no more than three years in prison when Kent is sentenced on May 11. Obstruction, a felony, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Kent had vigorously maintained his innocence. DeGuerin had said the judge's conduct with the two women was consensual. . . . Authorities first investigated Kent after McBroom filed a complaint against him in May 2007 and the Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals began a probe. . . . The judicial council suspended Kent in September 2007 for four months with pay but didn't detail the allegations against him. It also transferred him to Houston, 50 miles northwest of Galveston, where he had worked since being appointed in 1990. . . .
If he had been convicted of the most serious federal sex crimes charges, Kent could have received a sentence of up to life in prison.
The judicial branch investigation led to the criminal charges. He admits to lying in the course of the investigation. Sentencing is set for May 11, 2009. Kent was appointed by George H.W. Bush.