While the House Judiciary Committee Task Force on Impeachment is preparing to start hearings June 3 on retired U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent’s impeachment, Kent won’t be there, says his lawyer Dick DeGuerin. Not only that, Kent intends to turn in his resignation to President Barack Obama today, DeGuerin says, but the resignation isn’t effective until a year from now.
“You know, they can make a spectacle of this if they want to, but we’re not going to participate,” says DeGuerin, a partner in Houston’s DeGuerin & Dickson.
“Judge Kent will be giving notice to the president [in a letter] as soon as it’s sent today that he’s resigning his position as a district judge effective June 1, 2010,” DeGuerin says. [See a copy of Kent's letter.]
There’s a reason Kent is making his resignation effective one year from now, DeGuerin says.
“I figure that it will take at least that long for Congress and the Senate to go through all of the motions for impeachment. And he would be entitled to continue the health benefits that he has during that time. They can either have their spectacle or accept his resignation as tendered and go on to more important business that Congress has,” DeGuerin says.
In February Kent pleaded guilty to an obstruction of justice charge, in exchange for the government dropping five sexual abuse charges, and was sentenced in May to 33 months in prison. He is set to report to federal prison on June 15.
One of the reasons the House is moving quickly to impeach Kent is because he is still receiving his $174,000-a-year judicial salary, two Republican staff counsel for the House Judiciary Committee told Texas Lawyer last week. The only way to stop his salary is through impeachment or through Kent’s voluntary resignation, they said. [See "House Task Force to Hold Hearing on Kent Impeachment," Texas Lawyer, June 1, 2009, page 1.]
DeGuerin say Kent decided to resign “to try to save the embarrassment that these useless hearings would have. That’s embarrassing for the judicial system as well as everybody involved.”
An official with the House Judiciary Committee who requests anonymity says the June 3 hearing will go on as scheduled and the impeachment process will be swift.
House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, says “Judge Kent’s own actions continue to prove that he is unworthy of public service. By choosing to resign effective a year from now, Judge Kent is attempting to secure a year’s salary, paid for by the American taxpayers, while he sits in a prison cell as a convicted felon. This is an outrageous abuse of authority and defies the very principles of justice Judge Kent swore to uphold. Ensuring that a corrupt judge does not receive another penny of taxpayer dollars is one of the most important jobs for this Congress and a priority for the Judiciary Committee.”
Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who is an expert on judicial discipline and is scheduled to testify at tomorrow’s hearing, says Kent’s delayed resignation puts Congress in an unusual position.
Hellman says that it usually takes months to push an impeachment of a federal judge through both houses of Congress. The articles of impeachment start in the House and the Senate holds an impeachment trial.
“The House could act very, very quickly,” Hellman says. “But in the Senate, it’s hard to get anything done. But this might spur them to act more quickly than they otherwise would.”