Lawmakers hope to deny convicted judge full salary, votes to investigate his crimes

Judiciary Committee agrees to investigate judge

WASHINGTON — A House committee has taken the first step toward impeaching a Texas federal judge and stripping him of his salary as he heads to prison for lying about sexually abusing two female employees.

The voice vote calling for an impeachment investigation of U.S. District Judge Sam Kent came Wednesday after disagreement over whether he should be allowed to draw his federal salary while he serves his sentence.

Kent was sentenced this week to nearly three years in prison for lying about the sexual assault of two female employees. He’ll begin serving the sentence next month. He is the first sitting federal judge to be indicted on sex crimes.

Kent’s attorney says the judge plans to retire on disability, which would allow Kent to draw his full $169,300 annual salary and benefits for the rest of his life.

Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, want Kent to resign.

“Although Judge Kent is headed to prison, he remains a federal judge and continues to collect a salary unless he resigns or is impeached,” Conyers said.

The committee has been investigating another federal judge, Thomas Porteous of Louisiana, who is charged with presiding over a trial in which lawyers involved had given him money. He also is accused of filing for bankruptcy under a false name.

The vote Wednesday allows the committee’s task force investigating Porteous to also investigate Kent, a first step in the impeachment process.

The decision to investigate reserves the committee’s “exclusive right under the Constitution to impeach him if necessary,” Smith said in a written statement.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., complained the committee should act more swiftly against Kent than Porteous because he has pleaded guilty and been sentenced, Sensenbrenner said.

“Dealing with the Kent situation is a matter of urgency because if we delay he will be able to get away with drawing a full judicial salary while sitting in prison,” Sensenbrenner said.

Judge Edith Jones of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering Kent’s retirement. He has been removed from presiding over any criminal trials. A federal judge’s salary is protected unless he resigns.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., cautioned the committee against acting too quickly because of Kent’s claim that he may suffer from bipolar disorder. She said it shouldn’t excuse his criminal behavior, but said is grounds for disability retirement.

“Mental illness is a real disease and I hope that the (committee’s investigating) task force will consider whether or not that is in fact the case,” Lofgren said.

The impeachment process can be long, requiring more votes on the grounds for removing a federal official from office and hearings. Eventually the Senate must try the case.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he’d support any efforts to impeach Kent if he does not resign, and cut off his salary.

“I certainly think he has disgraced his office and think he is an embarrassment to the judiciary. When you hold a position of trust like that, I think it is especially egregious when people violate that trust like he did,” said Cornyn, a former state district court judge and attorney general in Texas.

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