Cathy standing in what was Judge Kent's private office
Cathy standing in what was Judge Kent’s private office

Kent called Cathy up to his chambers one morning. This was unusual because he usually had Donna summon people to his office, but it was 10 o’clock in the morning and he was not likely to have been drinking, so she went. When she walked in to the outside chamber office, Donna met her there, “I think he’s called you, right? Go on in and talk to him.”

Cathy walked in the Judge’s office, and he asked her to shut the door. Before she could turn back around, the Judge walked towards her and grabbed her in an embrace. Before Cathy had a chance to react, there was a knock at the door and Donna walked in. Both Cathy and the Judge twirled around and the Judge dropped his hands from Cathy’s waist. Cathy was certain the whole spectacle had a “hand’s in the cookie jar” feel to it. “Judge,” Donna said, “your wife’s here to see you,” and in walked Sarah. Mortified, Cathy excused herself and went back to her office.

A few hours later the Judge called her laughing. “Boy, I’ll tell you what. Donna walks in. My wife walks in. I was waiting for Mother Teresa to walk in next!”

“Judge Kent, this is going to have to stop. You’re going to have to leave me alone. It’s not only inappropriate, it’s creating a lot of tension in the office and tension between Donna and I.”

“Donna thinks you’re trying to get her job.”

“Well, I’m not trying to get her job.”

“Well, why don’t you explain that to her. She was pretty upset.”

When Cathy hung up the phone, she thought a minute. Yes. They needed to talk. So the next day she called Donna and invited her to lunch.

The two left the courthouse together and ate at a local restaurant a few miles away. Neither knew what to think or even how to start the conversation because the Judge had spent a considerable amount of time feeding each of them information to make them suspicious of one another and their intentions. Cathy finally laid it out on the table.

“Donna, number one, it’s not what you think. What you walked in on yesterday is not what it looks like. Number two, I don’t want your job.” She proceeded to tell Donna that the Judge had been harassing her all the time. “He’s messing with me and I don’t know what to do.”

“He’s doing it to me too.” The two were silent for a moment.

Until that moment, Donna had not known what to think of Cathy. She had been under the mistaken impression Cathy was pursuing the Judge sexually and trying to get her job in order to get closer to him. One of the things that draw people to Cathy is her sincerity and even though the women did not share the specifics of what they had endured, both knew at that moment they were telling the truth. They were able to talk about the inappropriate language, phone calls, groping, touching, and kisses, but they couldn’t go farther. They couldn’t talk about the hard stuff. The thoughts were there, the images were in their minds, but the words couldn’t come out. It’s hard to talk about the nitty gritty details of what happens to you during an assault. It’s humiliating and embarrassing, even when you know you are not alone in your experience. The gravity of the situation became clear. This was a Federal Judge that was not only getting away with assaulting one woman, but potentially multiple women, none of which had come forward to their knowledge. They also knew they were trapped and there was nothing they could do.

When it becomes clear that hope is lost, the first reaction is denial. “Maybe he will stop,” one of them said. Various other implausible, denial-filled scenarios were floated during the conversation. In the end, they concluded that there was nothing that could be done. The only thing they could do was support each other and make a pact. It was to be their little secret. They were not going to tell anyone and the secrets they shared at that lunch that day were to stay in that restaurant, at that table. They promised to be each other’s lookouts. If the Judge was going out on one of his drunken lunches, Donna would let Cathy know so she could go home early or otherwise be unavailable. Cathy promised Donna that if she ever just had enough and decided to do something about it, Donna would be the first to know. Unlike Donna, Cathy actually had superiors and a chain of command where she could report the abuse.

“I will let you know. I’ll give you a heads up. I promise.” At the time she said it, she really, really meant it.

After lunch, some kind of wall had come down for Donna. Perhaps she was not alone after all and if people knew it was happening to more than just her there might be a chance something could be done about it. When she got back to the office she made a phone call to a dear friend of hers, a former law clerk by the name of (name temporarily removed for confidentiality) that was now in private practice. She had lunch with him as well and told him what was going on. She also told one of Judge Kent’s current law clerks, (name temporarily removed for confidentiality). Again, she couldn’t go into graphic detail, but “He’s messing with me” seemed to get the point across just fine. “I just had lunch with Cathy McBroom and he’s doing it to her too.”

“Donna, I don’t know what to tell you. What can you all do? He is a predator. I had lunch with him not too long ago and he came into the office and molested half my staff. I had to tell him later, ‘Judge, you can’t be doing that. You can’t be doing that in my office.’ I told my staff I would never bring him back to the office again, but there wasn’t much else I can do. I don’t know what to tell you, Donna. He’s a predator.” And that was all that (name temporarily removed for confidentiality) could say.

The sharing of stories, while painful and horrid opened a floodgate of hope and possibilities for the future. However, it didn’t take long to realize no one could help them. Gradually, the open daylight that hope brings slowly dimmed until Donna found herself back in the exhausting, day-to-day dance of protecting her physical and emotional integrity. The daylight had just been an illusion.