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On Jan. 3, two dozen protesters in Houston marched outside the federal court shouting for the impeachment of U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent for what his discipline order called “sexual harassment” of a court case manager. That day was Kent’s first back on the job following a four-month paid suspension and temporary banishment from the Galveston, Texas, court. For the demonstrators, suspension was not punishment enough. Discipline orders for federal judges, although public, are not widely disseminated and often difficult to locate. Yet when misconduct allegations emerge, they provide insight into how the judiciary polices itself. In politically sensitive or high-profile cases, the circuits have been criticized for mishandling or manipulating the discipline process. Kent currently faces a criminal investigation and a call for impeachment as a result of allegations that he groped court staffer Cathy McBroom, according to published accounts from friends and relatives. Kent has been limited to hearing only civil cases by the court. Protesters complained, as did McBroom’s lawyer, that the circuit’s four-month suspension did not go nearly far enough. The complaints have prompted a wider inquiry outside the judiciary, including potential criminal charges. Kent’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin of Houston’s DeGuerin Dickson & Hennessy, said, “We know there is an ongoing criminal investigation and we are cooperating with that.” He added, “What is needed is some way for the investigative panel to enforce confidentiality rules. Judge Kent has been unfairly pictured in the press by the complainant, her family, friends and lawyer,” he said. McBroom’s attorney, Rusty Hardin of Rusty Hardin & Associates in Houston, did not return calls seeking comment on DeGuerin’s assertion. Fodder for attacks Circuits appear more likely to step in when a case presents clear allegations of corruption, as in the highly unusual referral for potential impeachment of U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of New Orleans. In December, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals referred Porteous for potential impeachment, finding that he made “numerous false statements under oath” during his bankruptcy case, including failure to report gambling losses and concealing assets. It is also alleged that he received gifts from attorneys with cases pending before him. In re Complaint of Judicial Misconduct, No. 07-05-351-0085. But one circuit was torn between conservative and liberal judges by a divisive misconduct attack on a colleague that was generated by politics � the very thing most judges say they fear will weaken judicial independence if allowed to fester. In a 2001 incident that became fodder for congressional attacks on the judiciary, then-6th Circuit Chief Judge Boyce Martin was accused by colleagues of delaying votes on a call to rehear two nationally significant cases and thereby excluding two conservative-leaning judges who were about to retire. The legal actions involved the University of Michigan affirmative action policy case and an Ohio death penalty case. A complaint by Judicial Watch Inc., which monitors the judiciary, alleged that Martin manipulated potential swing votes to reconsider the Michigan affirmative action case and extend a stay of execution in an Ohio death case. Grutter v. James, 288 F.3d 732 (2002), and In re Byrd Jr., 269 F.3d 578 (2001). A ‘pyrrhic victory’ The complaint was ultimately dismissed because Martin never had a forum to present his position. “I was never given a chance to put my side on,” he said in an interview. The misconduct case was not transferred to another circuit, but was decided by judges on his own court, who were among those making the allegations. “It is a pyrrhic victory when the case is dismissed and they never listen to your side,” Martin said. The claims drew the attention of Congress. The then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner, asked for Martin’s internal documents in the Michigan case for potential impeachment proceedings. “I spent a week explaining what happened to Sensenbrenner’s staff. And never heard another word.” When a new chairman, John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., took over, Martin was told the separation of powers doctrine barred the House committee from interfering in court operations.

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