Monday, September 1, 2008

Texas federal judge charged with sexual abuse

By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press Writer

HOUSTON — A federal judge accused of fondling a former court employee was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on sexual abuse charges.
U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent is charged with two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse.

A former case manager at the U.S. District Court in Galveston accused Kent of twice touching her under her clothing and repeatedly making obscene suggestions during the six years she worked with him.

The indictment, first reported by the Houston Chronicle, alleges the criminal conduct happened on Aug. 29, 2003, and March 23, 2007, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich said in a statement.

Kent's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, called any sexual contact that may have happened between Kent and his accuser consensual.

"He's angry and ready for a fight. He is innocent. We will try this case. It is nothing but a false accusation," said DeGuerin said.

Kent's accuser issued a statement Thursday saying she felt vindicated by the grand jury's decision.

"After a very difficult 17 months, I feel like I have finally been validated. I have listened and read with horror as Judge Kent's lawyer suggested that what happened to me was 'enthusiastically consensual,'" she said. "I am relieved to find that even federal judges are not above the law, and that sexual abuse in the workplace is never acceptable, no matter the status of the offender."

The abuse allegations were first investigated by the Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reprimanded Kent in September 2007. The council gave no details about the allegations, only saying a complaint alleging sexual harassment had been filed against Kent. It ordered the judge to go on leave for four months, but Kent still collected his $165,000 annual salary.

Kent was reassigned from Galveston to Houston.

If convicted of attempted aggravated sexual abuse, Kent could face up to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Each count of abusive sexual contact carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

An agreement with prosecutors will allow Kent to surrender Wednesday for an initial court appearance.

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