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Bob Casey Federal Courthouse Downtown Houston

“On or about August 29, 2003, in the Southern District of Texas, in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, defendant Samuel B. Kent did knowingly engage in sexual contact with another person without that other person’s permission, to wit: defendant Kent, at the United States Post Office[1] and Courthouse in Galveston, Texas, did engage in the intentional touching, both directly and through the clothing, of the groin, breast, inner thigh, and buttocks of Person A with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, and arouse and gratify the sexual desire of Person A.” The superseding indictment[2] went on to outline count two and count three, all three of which were included in the original indictment. “On or about March 23, 2007…defendant did knowingly attempt to cause another person to engage in a sexual act by using force against that other person,” “attempted to cause Person A to engage in contact between Person A’s mouth and defendant Kent’s penis by forcing Person A’s head towards defendant Kent’s groin area,” “did engage in intentional touching, both directly and through the clothing, of the groin, breast, inner thigh, and buttocks of Person A with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, and arouse and gratify the sexual desire of Person A,” These charges all read as they did in the original indictment, but when this was filed on August 28, 2008, neither the FBI nor the Department of Justice had a lot of confidence they could make them stick. It was one woman’s word over the word of a Federal Judge of the United States.

The superseding indictment added three additional charges. “COUNT FOUR: On one or more occasions between January 7, 2004, and continuing until at least January 2005, any one and all of which constitute the offense of Aggravated Sexual Abuse, but which the Grand Jury cannot further differentiate by date, in the Southern District of Texas, in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, defendant Samuel B. Kent did knowingly cause and attempt to cause another person to engage in a sexual act by using force against that other person, that is: defendant Kent, at the United States Post Office and Courthouse in Galveston, Texas, did engage and attempt to engage in contact between his mouth and Person B’s vulva by force and did penetrate and attempt to penetrate the genital opening of Person B by a hand and finger by force with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, and arouse and gratify the sexual desire of any person.” Count five was similar in that it alleged Kent “did engage in the intentional touching, directly and through the clothing, of the genitalia, groin, breast, inner thigh, and buttocks of Person B with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, and arouse and gratify the sexual desire of any person.” Count six outlined the obstruction of justice charge indicating that after Cathy filed her complaint, and in response to the investigation initiated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Kent deliberately lied to the committee about his behavior with Person B in order to “obstruct, influence, and impede the Fifth Circuit’s investigation into the misconduct complaint filed by Person A.”

For seven hundred three days, one month short of two years, Cathy McBroom stood alone as Person A and as much courage as it took for her to become Person A, she knew it would go nowhere unless there was at least a Person B. Regardless of how many people witnessed the aftermath of her assault or knew the temperament of Judge Kent, no jury would believe her unless they also thought he had done it to someone else. One woman – shame on her; Two women – shame on him. The superseding indictment brought Cathy enormous relief. It was no longer her word against a federal judge. The night she heard the news she had the first decent night’s sleep she’d had in two years. She had suspicions about who Person B might have been, but based on the investigation her attorneys conducted, she also knew it could have been anyone and neither the Department of Justice nor the FBI was talking.

This was to be the first day of the trial against Federal Judge Samuel B. Kent. Flanked by her attorneys, Cathy entered the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse in Houston in much the same way as she had everyday since she’d been reassigned to work there following the sexual assault that prompted her complaint.This assault was particularly difficult for Cathy. As she noted in a letter to her supervisor “Working in this dangerous and hostile environment is no longer acceptable for me, as I fear for my personal safety.” With that, she requested a transfer to Houston with the hope of being placed in a similar position with similar duties at the same rate of pay. Although she would not file her formal Judicial Misconduct Complaint for another two months, this letter outlined the events surrounding the assault and served to put the court on notice that Judge Kent’s behavior had been egregious and finally someone was standing up to it. It’s fairly standard for alleged victims of any kind of workplace harassment to be given alternative and equivalent workplace duties if available and Cathy was granted her request.

On her left was her attorney, Rusty Hardin and this was the kind of fight Rusty loved. A Harris County, Texas state prosecutor for over 15 years, he never lost a felony trial[3] and has been a victim’s rights advocate since the dawn of his career. A quintessentially approachable man, he has always been a master of persuasion, a gift that no-doubt contributes to his steadfast belief in the jury’s ability to almost always make the right decision. Since transitioning from prosecutor to defense attorney, a move that made many prosecutors consider him a traitor, his roster of clients was essentially a who’s who of national figures. Names like Scottie Pippin, Roger Clemens, Victoria Olsteen, and J. Howard Marshall, the elderly husband of Anna Nicole Smith, to whom none of Marshall’s $1.6 billion fortune went by the time Rusty finished closing arguments.

Technically, Cathy shouldn’t have even needed an attorney. She had not done anything wrong, wasn’t being charged with anything, and was not suing the Judge personally. She was “just” a witness, as the Chief Justice for the 5th Circuit, Judge Edith Jones once explained to her. For many attorneys, going up against a federal judge is career suicide, which is why all the other attorneys Cathy called refused to help her. Rusty, however, had the political, legal, and social capital it took to take it on without fear of reprisal. Many around him see him as a steadfastly ethical lawyer with clear beliefs around right and wrong. The idea that a federal judge, someone that was sworn to uphold the very laws he violated, could assault one of his staff and get away with it was more than Rusty could tolerate. As soon as he heard the story, he was in. And when Rusty Hardin was in, he was all in and he did it without ever asking for a dime.

On her right was her other attorney, Joe Roden. Born in Louisiana and raised in Liberty, Texas, Joe was an appellate lawyer by training. Considering that, on average, only about 10% of cases appeal and of those, only about 30% are successful in getting some portion of the trial courts’ decisions reversed[1], appellate law is the definition of never giving up. This was why his role in Cathy’s representation was so important. He loved the challenge of figuring out the law and creating the best arguments to support it. So when Rusty came to him with the possibility that Kent had committed a federal criminal offense and not just a civil one, Joe identified just which statutes Kent violated. With that in hand, Rusty publicly accused Judge Kent with felony criminal conduct, lighting up every major newspaper wire.

Cathy, Joe, and Rusty got off the elevator on the 11th floor and headed to the ceremonial courtroom. She had been working in the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse for two years, but the massive slabs of chocolate and cream swirled marble walls, white institutional government floors and walnut church-like benches for sitting had a much more personal meaning to her now. As she stepped off the elevator, Cathy saw Donna Wilkerson, Judge Kent’s secretary, sitting on a bench around the corner to the right. Donna was an attractive blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman in her 40s. Usually personable and energetic, on that day she was alone, looking drawn, thin, and weathered. Cathy still wasn’t sure Donna was Person B, but when she saw her sitting there, she knew she was either there to support the judge or there because she was a victim too. Her isolation gave it away. But strangely, Cathy wasn’t angry. She knew why Donna held out for so long and a part of her didn’t blame her. After all, no one would intentionally sign up for the hell that Cathy endured for the last two years. Only an idiot would, she thought.

So much was still up in the air. Even though they expected a plea deal to be made that day, they were also told that anything could happen. Kent could change his mind. The judge presiding over the proceedings could reject the plea deal altogether. And even though the superseding indictment paved the way to some kind of victory for Cathy, she didn’t know what kind or how long it would last. The possibility remained that there could be a very long, meticulous, public trial ahead of her. While Kent was trying to get his original indictment dismissed, she had already had a preview of what Kent’s attorney, Dick Deguerin, might do in an effort to discredit her and make her look like the jilted, scorned lover. A native Austinite and University of Texas Law School alumni, Dick also started his law career as a Harris County prosecutor, just like Rusty. But after about five years he became somewhat of an apprentice to Percy Foreman, a famous Houston trial attorney probably best-known for representing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray. Beneath many of Dick’s trial strategies can be heard the credo of his mentor: “Try someone else – the husband, the lover, the police or, if the case has social implications, society generally. But never the defendant.”

After weeks of plea-bargaining, over a hundred people filed into Judge C. Robert Vinson’s courtroom, a conservative, hardline judge known for issuing maximum sentences. Judge Vinson’s courtroom that day was the ceremonial courtroom, the largest and most majestic of the courtrooms in the Houston Federal Courthouse. It’s a large, sound proofed container. It’s lack of windows, navy blue carpet, and wood paneled walls contribute to a sense of containment and make it hard to keep track of time once you enter. Three huge oval-shaped conference tables sit in front of the judge’s bench adorned with just about any multimedia device one might need to present your case. And on the wall, the row of primarily white, male faces of the judges who have presided over this court in the past made it clear just who’s home you were visiting. Supporters, haters, reporters, and people who didn’t know what to think were seated side by side to hear the fate of Judge Kent.

At 9:00am, Cathy and her supporters made their way to their seats. By 9:30am, there was still no sign of Kent, Dick DeGuerin, Judge Vinson or the prosecutors. Rusty assured Cathy that they were probably all in a conference with Judge Vinson. Because Cathy was a victim and Rusty was representing her in that capacity, they had no legal right to be a part of those proceedings, only the defense, the prosecutors, and the judge did. Cathy began to wonder if Kent had backed out of the plea deal.

A lot of the people who had been privy to the events of the last couple of years were not present. Those that were there were there for a variety of reasons – closure, voyeurism, and sadness to name a few. Of the absences, several were notable people who Kent had protected and supported throughout the years like (name temporarily removed for confidentiality), (name temporarily removed for confidentiality), and (name temporarily removed for confidentiality), all lawyers who were more than happy to receive Kent’s protection and legal referrals when times were good, but also who ended up being embroiled in controversies because of him as a result. (Name temporarily removed for confidentiality), Kent’s former law clerk, sat alone in the audience and cried the entire time just from the stress of it all. For two years, friends, colleagues, and victims of Judge Kent wondered how this was all going to turn out. Finally, he appeared and took his seat in the courtroom. There he was, sitting there, a defeated man, hunched over with no trace of his boisterous booming personality.

Aside from Cathy herself, Charlene Clark probably knew the most about how this ordeal impacted Cathy. Cathy’s closest childhood friend, Charlene and her husband Larry sat close-by Cathy in the courtroom. Charlene was a tall, thin, no nonsense woman with wonderfully crazy curly blonde hair who single-handedly helped organize a protest to have Kent impeached from the bench. She couldn’t understand how everyone else could just stand passively by as Kent came in and out of the courtroom. No one could have been a more loyal friend than Charlene. Night after night she listened to Cathy’s stories of her life at work without a hint of judgment or suspiciousness about Cathy. There were many nights when Cathy desperately needed that complete acceptance. When she walked off the elevator behind Cathy, she was secretly hoping to corner Kent and tell him just what she thought about him. Her husband had to keep an eye on her. All he needed was his wife to be taken down by security guards in the Houston Federal Courthouse. And all she needed was just 60 seconds alone with Kent.

“All rise.” The court officer alerted the courtroom as the murmurs and chatting were replaced by the sounds of bodies shifting from sitting to standing.

After a few moments, Judge Vinson situated himself in his chair. “Pursuant to notice, we are here for sentencing in Case Number 4:

08-CR-596, United States versus Samuel B. Kent. Is the government ready?

Prosecutor John Pearson from the Department of Justice, stood and replied, “The government is ready, Your Honor.”

[1] The United States Post Office in Galveston is located in the same building as the courthouse. In order to bring Federal charges against Sam Kent, it had to be proven that his acts were committed in a building owned or leased by the Federal Government, hence the reference here in the indictment.

[2] A superseding indictment is one that replaces a previous indictment, usually when new evidence has been found and/or new charges are filed.

[3] He litigated upwards of 100 of them during his tenure there.

[4] Court Statistics Project; Volume 14, Number 1, 2007, based on civil justice survey of state courts 2001 supplemental study of civil appeals.