Cathy McBroom
Cathy McBroom

When Cathy was a sophomore in high school, she thought Joan was a friend of hers from drill team until she found out Joan was passing notes to other kids in class, “Cathy is a whore.” “Cathy is a bitch.” It broke Cathy’s heart. She had no idea what she had done wrong. One day she came home crying after drill team practice.

“What’s wrong?” her Dad said.

“Joan is passing notes about me to people at school saying I’m a whore and I’m a bitch and I’m all this stuff.”

He thought for a minute and then said rather matter of factly, “You need to go whoop her butt.”

“I do?” Cathy wasn’t sure that girls ‘whooped butts.’

“Well yeah! Get in the car.”

The two got in the car and Cathy’s father drove her over to Joan’s house. He pulled up to the front lawn, put the car in park, and said, “Well, go on up there.”

Cathy got out of the car and walked up to Joan’s house and knocked on the door, more because her father told her to than anything she felt instinctually compelled to do. Joan answered the door and Cathy asked, “Joan, did you write those ugly notes about me in school?”

“Yeah,” as if what are you going to do about it. Cathy grabbed her by the hair and pulled her out onto her front porch and started beating the crap out of her, both still in their drill team tights and uniforms from practice earlier that day. Eventually, Joan’s father and grandmother heard her wails and came to the door to try to break the girls up.

“What the hell is going on!?” Joan’s father intervened.

“What? What’s happening? What’s happening?” Joan’s grandmother just kept repeating this over and over in her shrill old lady voice.

As they are pulling Cathy off Joan, Cathy’s Dad starts to get out of the car. “Is that your Dad?” Joan’s father asked.

“Yes.”

To Cathy’s father, “You brought your daughter over here to beat a girl up?” Cathy was mortified.

“Well, she deserved it. She was screwing with my daughter!” Then to Cathy, “Let’s go honey.” Cathy and her father got in the car and left. Joan never messed with her again.

************

When she got home from work on the night of March 23rd, 2007, she was exhausted. She had been crying for hours and mascara was everywhere on her face except her eyelashes. She walked in the door to find Rex asleep and oblivious on the couch. She sat down next to him. “Rex. Wake up,” but he was crashed out. This hurricane built up inside her. She was utterly alone and the one person she needed to help her shoulder all of it was passed out asleep and comfortable on the couch. She went into the bathroom and started to wash the mascara off her face. Her eyes were puffy and red in the mirror. Her bathroom had a double sink with a large mirror spanning the expanse of the wall above it. She picked up a vase that normally sits in between the two sinks, took several steps back, and hurled the vase at the mirror shattering it into pieces.

Finally, Rex appeared around the corner, “What’s going on in here?”

“Well, you wouldn’t know would you? You were asleep!” She left the house and spent the night at her friend Cindy’s.

For months all Cathy could get from friends and relatives was a sympathetic ear and hollow words. “I don’t know what to tell you.” “It sounds like a bad situation, but…” “What can you do? He’s a Federal Judge.” The one exception was Charlene. She had been her best friend since childhood and remained loyal and protective of her just like she was when they were kids.

“You’re never going back there! Do you hear me? Cathy, if I was there I would shake you!” Charlene lived in San Antonio at the time. “We are going to figure this out.”

The two batted ideas back and forth, “Why don’t we call the police? This was a crime. Maybe we should call the police?”

It hadn’t even occurred to Cathy that the Judge had committed a crime. “I can’t call the police Charlene. He is a Federal Judge. They will think I’m crazy.”

“Let me call Mark (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality). He’s a lawyer. He might know what to do.” So Charlene called Mark (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) and had him call Cathy. It was probably one of the most important pieces of help she got during that time. He told her to document everything that happened, while it was fresh in her mind. He also helped Cathy identify what it was she really wanted. She didn’t want to lose her tenure with the government. She still wanted to be a case manager, but she was quickly losing hope that that would ever happen again because those jobs were hard to come by.

“So ask for a transfer, Cathy. Put a lot of detail in it so they know you’re serious about it.”

The next morning was her son’s 13th birthday party. He was having a big bowling party with his friends, but Cathy could not bring herself to go. For the first time in her life, she simply could not function. Her mother and Rex managed the party while Cathy made use of the few supports she had to help her figure out what to do next. She talked to Charlene for moral support and took her attorney friend’s advice and went about documenting everything in a letter to her boss (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality). She took Monday off work, wrote the letter, Mark read it and gave her some suggestions, and Cathy prepared it for submission the next day.

Cathy took the opportunity to correct the record on what she perceived to be inaccuracies in (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) characterization of what happened to the Starbock’s evidence, but the most compelling part of the letter was finally outing Judge Kent’s behavior. She wrote every excruciating detail, requested a copy be put in her personnel file, and requested a transfer to the Houston office. Her mother went with her to drop off the letter to her boss. When they arrived, the security guard gave them a head’s up, “(name temporarily omitted for confidentiality)’s here, the Judge isn’t.”

Cathy and her mother went straight to (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality)’s office, who looked puzzled as to why Cathy was there. Perhaps she expected Cathy to take off more time or not come back at all. Cathy handed her the letter.

“What’s this?”

“Well, I think it’s self-explanatory.” With that, Cathy and her mother left.

Both the Judge and Donna were out of the office the day Cathy dropped off her letter to (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality), so (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) called Donna at home. At this point, the relationship between Cathy and (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) had so deteriorated, she was completely unsympathetic towards her, “Cathy is claiming sexual harassment by the judge. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do about it, but he’s who we work for so I figure you need to tell him.” In fact, he was not who (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) worked for. She worked for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. (Name temporarily omitted for confidentiality)’s chain of command was to notify the administration in Houston, not give the judge a head’s up to give him time to get his story straight. However, the 5th Circuit staff was full of people who both feared and protected him because they knew even though they did not directly work for him, he could have them fired with one phone call. This level of power can do amazing things to people’s sense of good judgment. When (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) spoke about what happened to Cathy to others, it was framed as the Judge “hitting on her again,” not as a sexual assault.

Donna on the other hand, did work for the Judge. He was her sole authority. This is what made (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality)’s request even more problematic for Donna. Her chain of command for reporting her sexual abuse was her perpetrator. She had no one else to protect her.

“I don’t know what to do. I’ll come get the letter, and I’ll get the letter to the judge.” Donna drove down to Galveston and met (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) off-site. Donna was in shock when she read the letter. She knew Cathy was telling the truth not only because of their lunch conversation but because all of the things she said in the letter were the same types of things, done in the same types of ways, that the Judge had done to her. But more than that, she was pissed. Cathy had outed her in that letter and not only did she have no one to turn to, she was put in the position of going directly to him and showing him herself. She could not believe Cathy had done this to her. Their pact was to let each other know if either of them planned to make a complaint against the judge. She had no time to prepare. No time to protect herself. She felt Cathy had betrayed her trust on the highest level.

Donna had to address the task at hand so she called the Judge. “I’ve got a letter in my hand, and it’s bad, and I need to talk to you.” He was in the car with his wife and at first he thought Donna was bluffing. “It’s really bad. Cathy McBroom is claiming that you sexually harassed her. You need to meet with me and get this letter. I don’t know what to do with it.”

The judge dropped his wife off at the house and called Donna back, angry, as if Donna is playing a game with him or something. “What’s with all this smoke and mirror bullshit? What’s going on?”

“It’s not bullshit Judge. This letter is bad.”

“Come pick me up.”

Donna pulled up to the restaurant and picked him up outside.
“Drive.” The Judge sat in the passenger seat and read the letter while Donna drove aimlessly around Santa Fe. She was silent and other than driving, was completely frozen. Suddenly, he bursts out, “That fucking bitch! This is all lies! This is crazy! She’s just a disgruntled employee. She was about to get fired, and this is what she does to me?”

Donna stayed silent, in complete disbelief at his reaction. He knew that he had done all the same things to her and yet he is trying to convince her that Cathy was lying. What’s more, the letter said that Donna had told her it was happening to her too. She wondered if he had skipped over that part.

“Go to Galveston. Let’s pick up (Cathy’s boss- name temporarily omitted for confidentiality).” The entire way the Judge kept raging, “I don’t know what to do about this, but these are all lies!” He started trying to bargain with Donna over his predicament. “You know she’s been after me. And you know, I know that I’ve been a bad boy. I know that I’ve misbehaved.”

Donna finally picked up (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) and the three of them drove around Galveston. The Judge said to (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality), “You know Donna. You know I hugged and kissed her, and the first time she was real sweet about it and was a good sport. But then the next time she let me know that there was none of that going on and she didn’t want that, so I stopped. And with you (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality). There was that one incident with you that time, but that was it. That was it. With Cathy it was consensual. It was just a few kisses and hugs and that was it. And it was not unwelcome. Not at all. She’s been after me.” It was enough to make Donna and (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) question their own reality.

That evening about 6 o’clock, Cathy got a call from Michael Milby, the Southern District’s Court Clerk and (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality)’s boss. He asked Cathy if she would mind coming to Houston the next day to sit down and discuss her options. With her mother again by her side, the two made the drive to Houston to meet with him. With him was David Bradley, the district clerk, an attorney, and the highest administrative employee for the Southern District. Both Mr. Milby and Mr. Bradley were considerate and sympathetic after reading Cathy’s letter and took the opportunity to explain to Cathy what some of her options were. Neither advised her what to do.          “There’s certain relief we can offer you. Placing you in another job, transferring you, things like that. What we can’t do is offer you any kind of monetary damages at all. We can’t do that.” With that, they showed her the jobs they available in Houston. They all seemed like demotions for Cathy. One was an entry-level position training people in the Clerk’s Office, the other was as a secretary in the staff attorney’s office. They also wanted her to start immediately, but Cathy explained that after everything she had goen through, she needed some time off to recover a bit. So they gave her two weeks off, with only 5 days of it being administrative leave. The rest was considered personal leave.

These were accommodations the court was willing to give her without her having to file a formal complaint. Then Mr. Milby said, “If you want to file a formal complaint with the EEOC[1], the first step is to request counseling with the Chief Judge Hayden Head.” Cathy silently asked herself why in the world she would want to talk to a judge about another judge assaulting her. EEOC policy designates the court clerk as the coordinator from whom someone receives counseling. This would have been Mr. Milby. However, EEOC policy appoints the chief judge as the coordinator if the court clerk is disqualified or is otherwise unavailable. It felt as though they were feeding her to the wolves. Cathy did not understand why someone neutral, someone who was not a colleague of Judge Kent’s, could not be the person she received this counseling from. There was a rumor in the Galveston Courthouse that Judge Head and Judge Kent were tight and Cathy knew this. Cathy was unsure if it was in her best interest to even meet with Judge Head, much less talk to him about pursuing a formal EEOC complaint.

A formal EEOC complaint would have allowed Cathy a number of potential remedies, a number of which would not have applied to her situation, but it included the possibility of compensatory and/or punitive damages. The Clerk’s office was very considerate and as accommodating as they were able to be, but in the end, her understanding was that even with a formal EEOC complaint, they would not be able to offer her any more than they already had. She had gotten the transfer she asked for, a job that was considered “a comparable alternative position,” and some assurance that she would have seniority for the first case manager job opening in the Houston Courthouse. However, because Judge Kent was appointed by the President, they were powerless to have any impact on whether or not he stayed on the bench. EEOC complaints offered remedies to the victim, but no punishments for the perpetrators necessarily.

As everyone was getting ready to leave, Cathy’s mother stayed seated. “Are they going to do anything to the Judge?” Everyone turned around to see this strong, elderly woman protecting her little girl. “Judge Kent doesn’t need to be sitting on the bench.” At this moment, the pain in the room became real again instead of an administrative transaction. Mr. Milby and Mr. Bradley reassured Cathy’s mother the best they could while still remaining neutral and politely showed them to the door.

While Cathy had essentially discounted the option of a formal EEOC complaint, Judge Kent had put the deadline on his calendar and ticked off the days one by one as it got closer. She had 30 days from the date of the incident to file the EEOC complaint. The morning following his having Donna read Cathy’s letter to (name temporarily omitted for confidentiality) and him, the judge walked into the door a new man. “I’m forever changed. I’m going to change. I’m going to quit misbehaving and we’re going to get through this.” It was just as bizarre as the night before, as if Donna wasn’t outed in the letter, as if he had never put his hands on her, as if she was on his team, there to help him through it. She was completely trapped. Even if she wanted to complain about his treatment of her, she had no one to complain to. He was her one and only boss and he had no superiors. She had no EEOC protections like Cathy did because she was technically Judge Kent’s employee, not an employee of the court. Mr. Milby was not her boss. Her one and only boss was the one and only Judge Kent.

The move to Houston was not easy. Cathy had worked there 8 years earlier and now she was back in a lesser position than when she left for the job in Galveston. Even more awkward was the fact that they booted another woman out of her job who was on leave for a heart attack. Even though she was retirement age, she did not want to retire. She came back from medical leave to find Cathy sitting at her desk and no one even bothered to tell her who Cathy was or why she was there. The woman was found dead in her home about a month later. As if Cathy did not feel guilty and embarrassed enough as it was.

Shortly after Cathy settled in, Judge Head asked to meet with her and Mr. Milby. His court was in Corpus Christi, Texas, but he was in Houston for some other business. Judge Head was a graduate of the University of Texas Law School and had been in private practice in Corpus Christi, Texas for nine years before being appointed to the Fifth Circuit by President Reagan in 1981. He had an affable smile and while again his role was to impart information to Cathy rather than to encourage her one way or another, she got the strong impression he was supportive of her.

“Cathy, I’ve heard about your issues and what happened in Galveston and I’m very sorry. How’s the job going?”

“Well, its okay. It’s just not like the job I had. It’s not as good as the job I had in Galveston, but I’m managing.”

“Well, you will be considered for the next case manager position. I know you’ve expressed some concern with Mr. Milby about whether something was going to happen to Judge Kent.”

“Yes, Judge. I’m pretty unhappy about that. My whole life has been uprooted, and he’s just going on business as usual.” She had resigned herself to the fact that nothing would likely happen to Judge Kent.

“Well, there is another avenue.” He paused for a moment. “You can file a complaint of judicial misconduct.” Judge Head opened one of his law books and showed Cathy the statute under which she could file such an action. “Most of the time, litigants file those when they’re unhappy with a ruling and because of that, they are usually tossed out. But I have a feeling the Circuit would really take a serious look at this one. It’s up to you. There could be a lot of negative consequences for you and you need to know that going in. But I just wanted to make you aware of it.”

This was the first time Cathy had heard about this option. Despite the letter she wrote and the formal meetings she had with various people, no one told her this was a possible avenue. She felt Mr. Milby must have talked to Judge Head on her behalf and she was grateful. Cathy got the impression Judge Head wanted her to pull he trigger on a problem that had existed for a long time. Judges don’t typically pull the trigger on each other. They tend to protect their own, like most self-policing departments. Where the EEOC route would have looked after Cathy’s well-being like making sure she was safe in her job and not being harassed for whistle-blowing, they are highly motivated to encourage plaintiffs to settle. Part of the settlement could have been for the Justice Department to pay Cathy damages, but she wasn’t even entitled to back pay because instead of taking leave without pay during all of this, she mustered up the courage to keep working rather than let the entire experience beat her. In those types of lawsuits, it’s not always good to be such a strong person. She also thought if the settlement offer was not good enough, she would have to endure a long, exhausting trial, which was her next greatest fear after losing her job. At that point, she could barely get herself out of bed to go to work, much less drag herself to a trial for nothing but a little bit of money. The Judicial Misconduct Complaint had the potential impact that Cathy wanted – make Judge Kent take responsibility for his behavior.

Immediately following this meeting, Cathy slipped into the stairwell of the courthouse and called her attorney friend Mark.

“You’re not going to believe this but the Chief Judge thinks I could file a Judicial Misconduct Complaint on Judge Kent.”

“Don’t you dare do it Cathy.”

“Why not?”

“He’s a Federal Judge. Nothing good will come of it and you could lose. Look Cathy, somebody wants you to pull the trigger on this guy. I don’t know what their motives are, but you have everything to loose and nothing to gain from it. They are going to rip you. Your name will be all over the papers. It will be horrible and at the end of the day, he’s going to win.”

When Cathy got off the phone, she went straight back to her desk and cried. One minute she had some hope and the next minute it was taken away. Cathy thought Mark’s advice probably wasn’t the worst advice she had ever gotten, but she started thinking about him telling her to just swallow it down. She imagined him sitting in his cushy little law firm office with his feet propped up on his desk, giving her advice about something he would never, himself, have to deal with. She got angrier and angrier.

The next morning she called Judge Head. “Do you think if I file this complaint, I’ll ever get a job again as a case manager?”

“I think an honest judge would hire you.”

“Okay then. Thanks.”

[1] Equal Employment Opportunity Commission