Federal Judge Probed on Harassment Allegations

A Texas judge is accused of inappropriately touching a female employee.

Dec. 13, 2007— -- A federal judge in Texas is under investigation by the Department of Justice for allegedly inappropriately touching a former female employee, the judge's lawyer told ABC News.

U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent of Galveston, Texas, who was reprimanded and temporarily suspended in September, voluntarily spoke with the FBI at the end of November, said his lawyer, Dick DeGuerin.

Kent has been accused of lifting his former case manager's shirt and touching her breast against her will, and the woman's lawyer has publicly called for a criminal investigation into the allegations. Other employees have also complained of "inappropriate behavior" by Kent, according to court records.

"Absolutely, he denies" the allegations, DeGuerin said, adding that he believed Kent would be cleared by the investigation.

"We welcome the investigation, and will cooperate fully with it," he said. "Anytime somebody makes a complaint like that, they have to investigate it."

But a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation told ABC News that the federal government looked into Kent before Cathy McBroom's accusations were made public.

McBroom has not publicly told her story, which was first reported by the Houston Chronicle. But her mother, daughter and a friend have told ABC News that McBroom said Kent sexually harassed her repeatedly before March, when he allegedly lifted up her shirt and bra in his chambers and put his mouth on her breast. He then pushed her head towards his crotch, they said.

"She could hardly control herself, she was so upset," said Mary Ann Schopp, McBroom's mother.

They said McBroom complained to an office manager, but was told she might lose her job if she pursued a complaint against Kent.

Another former employee, Felicia Williams, who was fired by Kent in 2002, also told ABC News that Kent made sexually suggestive remarks when she worked for him; and the 5th Circuit Judicial Council, which investigated McBroom's complaint, said it investigated alleged "inappropriate behavior" toward other employees.

The judicial council, which is made up of federal judges, reprimanded Kent on Sept. 28 for allegations of "sexual harassment" and "inappropriate behavior," suspended him with pay for four months, and took unspecified "other measures" against Kent.

When he returns to the bench, Kent will be moved to Houston, where he will again work in the same building as his accuser. Impeachment is the only way for a federal judge to be removed from the bench.

The judicial council, whose proceedings are secret, has been criticized by McBroom's attorney, Rusty Hardin, and groups, such as the National Organization for Women, for what they called a tepid response over what they believe amounts to criminal conduct by Kent. Council hearings are closed, its investigation was not made public, and witnesses were ordered not to discuss their testimony in public.

Last month, House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers and Congressmen Howard Berman and Lamar Smith said that McBroom's allegations should be reviewed by the Judicial Conference of the United States, which has the power to recommend impeachment of federal judges.

Calling her story "shocking," they said in a statement that the Judiciary Committee would not take action until other remedies, such as a criminal investigation, are implemented.

DeGuerin, who has reviewed the 5th Circuit's investigation, said the judicial council did "a very thorough investigation," hearing sworn testimony from 16 witnesses. He said the council would have referred the case to prosecutors if it believed Kent had committed a crime.

"They're legally obligated to forward the case to prosecuting authorities if they found probable cause that a crime had been committed," he said.

The records of judicial misconduct investigations are generally given to the judges, but are not provided to the person making a complaint.

Hardin said he believed that Kent would ultimately be prosecuted, and that a jury would believe McBroom. He added it was a mistake for the judicial council not to forward the case to prosecutors.

"At the end of the day, everyone is going to regret that decision," he said.

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