U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent of the Southern District of Texas, who faces trial on Jan. 26 in Houston on three federal criminal charges, pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning to three additional charges just hours after they were lodged against him in a superseding indictment.
After Kent pleaded not guilty before 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edward Prado, prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice asked Prado to consider two issues at sidebar. Kent's defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin of Houston, objected, but Prado overruled him and had the courtroom cleared for the 55-minute hearing.
When Kent exited the courtroom, his only comment regarding the hearing was, "It's over."
Kent, a longtime Galveston federal judge who has been hearing civil cases in Houston for the past year, has been free on a personal recognizance bond, and Prado continued his bond.
DeGuerin told Prado that he wanted the hearing to be held in open court because of a gag order that prevents lawyers from discussing the case. "Simply appearing at sidebar is suspicious," DeGuerin said in court, noting that reporters have expressed frustration to him about the limitations of the gag order.
"I don't like secrets," DeGuerin said following the hearing.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida, who is presiding over Kent's case, issued the gag order shortly after Kent was indicted in August 2008.
DeGuerin and federal prosecutors Peter Ainsworth of Washington, D.C., and John Pearson of New York, each declined to say what happened during the closed-court session, but Pearson says he expects Prado to issue an order. DeGuerin and Ainsworth said the trial is still set for Jan. 26.
On Tuesday, a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment that added the three additional criminal charges against Kent. The superseding indictment in United States v. Samuel B. Kent brings one count of aggravated sexual abuse, one count of abusive sexual contact and one count of obstruction of justice against Kent.
DeGuerin's response after the hearing to the additional charges in the superseding indictment: "Not true."
In September 2008, Kent pleaded not guilty to the original three charges, which are two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse. Those charges stem from a complaint filed by Kent's former case manager in Galveston, Cathy McBroom, but the alleged victim in the superseding indictment is only identified as "Person B."
The government alleges in the superseding indictment that the new aggravated sexual abuse charge relates to Kent's conduct between Jan. 7, 2004, to at least January 2005. The government alleges that on one or more occasions, Kent, while at the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Galveston, "did engage and attempt to engage in contact between his mouth and Person B's vulva by force and did penetrate and attempt to penetrate the genital opening of Person B by a hand and finger by force with an intent to abuse, humiliate, degrade and arouse and gratify the sexual desire of any person." The indictment alleges that conduct violates Title 18, §2241(a)(1) of the U.S. Code.
As to the new abusive sexual conduct charge, the indictment alleges that during the same time frame, Kent "did engage in the intentional touching, directly and through the clothing, of the genitalia, groin, breast, inner thigh, and buttocks of Person B with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, and arouse and gratify the sexual desire of any person" in violation of §2244(a) of the code.
The government also alleges that Kent obstructed justice when he falsely stated to the Special Investigative Committee of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was investigating McBroom's complaint, that "the extent of his unwanted sexual contact with Person B was one kiss and that when told by Person B his advances were unwelcome no further contact occurred, when in fact and as he well knew defendant Kent had engaged in repeated unwanted sexual assaults of Person B, in order to obstruct, influence and impede" the investigation. The government alleges that conduct violates §1512(c)(2) of the code.
In August 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Kent on the three original charges, in which Kent faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison on each of the two counts of abusive sexual contact and up to life in prison on the attempted aggravated sexual abuse charge. The maximum fine on each charge is $250,000.
In May 2007, McBroom filed a complaint with the 5th Circuit. In September 2007, the Judicial Council of the 5th Circuit issued an order reprimanding and admonishing Kent, who has been on the bench since 1990. In August 2007, Chief U.S. District Judge Hayden W. Head Jr. of the Southern District of Texas signed an order noting that Kent would be absent from the bench from Sept. 1, 2007, to Jan. 1, 2008, and that U.S. District Judge John Rainey of Houston would take over Kent's portion of the Galveston docket.
The maximum punishment on the new abusive sexual contact charge is two years in prison. The maximum punishment on the new aggravated sexual abuse charge is life in prison and/or a $250,000 fine, and the maximum punishment on the new obstruction of justice charge is 20 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.