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Perversion of Justice

Cathy McBroom Donna Wilkerson
Photo Credit: Evelyn Baldwin

Perversion of Justice is a thoroughly researched, narrative non-fiction account of the downfall of Federal Judge Samuel B. Kent, who was impeached and sentenced to prison in 2009 following the sexual assault of two working class women under his employ, Cathy McBroom and Donna Wilkerson.  

The #MeToo movement has yet to explore the unchecked power of tens of thousands of members of the judiciary  in the United States, including the more than 1700 federal judges who have lifetime appointments that can only be interrupted by retirement, death, or Congressional impeachment. Perversion of Justice begins to dissect this uniquely powerful system through the eyes of Cathy and Donna.

Judge Kent was a federal judge for the 5th Circuit, the appeals court that hears most of our nation’s civil rights cases. On March 23, 2007, he summoned his case manager, Cathy McBroom, to his office where he sexually assaulted her. This was not the first time he assaulted Cathy and Cathy was not his first victim.

Donna was Judge Kent’s personal secretary. She and Cathy had three fundamental things in common. Both finally earned their dream job, both only had a high school education, and both had been sexually assaulted multiples times by Judge Kent. Over lunch one day, after discovering they were both being assaulted, they entered into a pact: neither woman would file a complaint before warning the other first. But Cathy’s last assault was particularly brutal and the promise she made to Donna was forgotten in its aftermath. Cathy documented her account in a judicial misconduct complaint and in an attempt to expose the pervasiveness of the problem, named Donna as another of Kent’s victims.

What followed was an 18-month investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department. The investigation was thwarted by the fact that for over a year, Donna defended Judge Kent and called Cathy a whore to anyone who would listen, lying to the grand jury on two occasions towards this end. It was a well-calculated decision for a woman in Donna’s shoes. She was a working class woman with no cultural power. He was a federal judge with a lifetime appointment who could only be removed by Congress. The people in charge of investigating his behavior were fellow federal judges all believed by Donna to be Kent’s friends. The reality is that in the court’s 230-year history, only 15 federal judges have ever been impeached and none of them for sexual misconduct. The odds were not in their favor. Cathy would be blackballed and would lose her career. Donna wasn’t about to go with her. His revenge would be immeasurable and far reaching.

I first read about Donna and Cathy’s journey in Texas Monthly’s story by the same name (thank you to Skip Hollingsworth for letting me use his brilliant title). Through the course of my interviews and research, I developed three goals. First, I wanted to explore the social structures that motivate women to turn on each other in the face of sexual misconduct allegations. It is an extremely common event that is difficult for us to discuss for fear that it will victim blame and detract from the social changes that need to occur. Second, I wanted to use Cathy and Donna’s personal life experiences, from childhood through adulthood, to explore why some women choose to report these crimes and others do not. Finally, the judicial misconduct complaint process and the rule of lifetime appointments, without regard to laws or ethical behavior, needs a very bright line shown upon it. Most people are unaware and would be appalled to know that such low standards apply to those who have been sworn to uphold the laws and civil rights of this country.

Weinstein and Cosby opened the public minds to how money, power, and social influence can be just as powerful as a ski mask and a knife when it comes to sexual assault. But so can long, black robes. The revelations surrounding Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings and the recent failure of the federal court system to discipline Federal Judge Alex Kozinski for multiple reports of sexual harassment are just two examples. My assessment of the Kent story suggests there are many more examples, but lifetime appointments and the complete lack of a transparent system to deal with these personalities thwart these stories from coming to light. As disgusted as we were about Weinstein and Cosby, the idea that the very people charged with the responsibility of upholding the laws of this country are blatantly breaking them with impunity must be addressed. Perversion of Justice is my small contribution to this important conversation.

At 93,782 words, the book is finished and I am currently looking for a literary agent to not only help usher this story to press, but create an ongoing relationship for future works exploring social justice and discrimination. Please feel free to contact me at asherry at alissasherry.com.

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Working Title: Murder, Racism, and Truth in Gary, Indiana

“An amazing feature of Gary, built as it is on shifting sands, is that it is actually so solid, so permanent, so strong. There is nothing suggestive of the shoddy or the temporary.”

—Robert Shackleton, The Book of Chicago, 1920

And that was how Gary was when Sean Kelly’s father moved the family there in 1940 to take a job in the steel mill. By the time Sean was 17, the Great Migration had continued to bring African Americans to the region with hopes of freedom and living wages. When Sean was 10, Mattie Johnson and her family moved into the house across the street. She was also 10, and Sean’s mother, in defiance of her husband, arranged with Mattie’s mother for Sean to safely walk Mattie to and from school everyday. The schools in Gary had never been segregated like they were in the south, not as a matter of law anyway. By the time he was 17, Sean was in love with Mattie, as she was with him.  The two found their ways to ease the electricity between them, as all teenagers do, but otherwise walked side by side as if the whole world was watching.

On one such walk home, Sean stopped in the corner store for a pop while Mattie waited for him outside. When he came out, she was gone. Completely disappeared. Her body was found two weeks later, beaten, bound, and sexually assaulted….

Fast forward 20 years later. Sean is a Gary Police Detective determined to find Mattie’s killer amidst a city riddled with crime, corruption, and racial division. His estranged father, now widowed, angry and alone, had long ago succumbed to white flight and moved to the suburbs to brood in his short-sighted righteous indignation. Sean refused to leave the city he loved and refused to move on emotionally from Mattie’s murder.

Murder, Racism, and Truth uses the fictional story of Sean’s quest for Mattie’s killer as a way to explore the complexities of racism, white privilege, the working class, and the racial politics of city once known as the “most American of all American cities.” Sean’s obsession with finding Mattie’s killer forces him to confront truths about his own family’s ties to the KKK in the 1920s as well as confront his own white privilege, despite his purposeful decision to defy his father and stay with his beloved Gary, Indiana at a time when white flight was at it’s peak.

Historically, the goal of Murder, Racism, and Truth is to explore and possibly overturn the overly simplistic narrative of Gary’s demise as created by the droves of whites who left during that time in history – that Black people were responsible for their own undoing and they, alone, ruined this once booming city. The understanding of a more accurate narrative and the discovery of Mattie’s real killer converge in this suspense-filled historical fiction novel.

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Perversion of Justice

Cathy McBroom Donna Wilkerson
Photo Credit: Evelyn Baldwin

Perversion of Justice is a thoroughly researched, narrative non-fiction account of the downfall of Federal Judge Samuel B. Kent, who was impeached and sentenced to prison in 2009 following the sexual assault of two working class women under his employ, Cathy McBroom and Donna Wilkerson.  

The #MeToo movement has yet to explore the unchecked power of tens of thousands of members of the judiciary  in the United States, including the more than 1700 federal judges who have lifetime appointments that can only be interrupted by retirement, death, or Congressional impeachment. Perversion of Justice begins to dissect this uniquely powerful system through the eyes of Cathy and Donna.

Judge Kent was a federal judge for the 5th Circuit, the appeals court that hears most of our nation’s civil rights cases. On March 23, 2007, he summoned his case manager, Cathy McBroom, to his office where he sexually assaulted her. This was not the first time he assaulted Cathy and Cathy was not his first victim.

Donna was Judge Kent’s personal secretary. She and Cathy had three fundamental things in common. Both finally earned their dream job, both only had a high school education, and both had been sexually assaulted multiples times by Judge Kent. Over lunch one day, after discovering they were both being assaulted, they entered into a pact: neither woman would file a complaint before warning the other first. But Cathy’s last assault was particularly brutal and the promise she made to Donna was forgotten in its aftermath. Cathy documented her account in a judicial misconduct complaint and in an attempt to expose the pervasiveness of the problem, named Donna as another of Kent’s victims.

What followed was an 18-month investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department. The investigation was thwarted by the fact that for over a year, Donna defended Judge Kent and called Cathy a whore to anyone who would listen, lying to the grand jury on two occasions towards this end. It was a well-calculated decision for a woman in Donna’s shoes. She was a working class woman with no cultural power. He was a federal judge with a lifetime appointment who could only be removed by Congress. The people in charge of investigating his behavior were fellow federal judges all believed by Donna to be Kent’s friends. The reality is that in the court’s 230-year history, only 15 federal judges have ever been impeached and none of them for sexual misconduct. The odds were not in their favor. Cathy would be blackballed and would lose her career. Donna wasn’t about to go with her. His revenge would be immeasurable and far reaching.

I first read about Donna and Cathy’s journey in Texas Monthly’s story by the same name (thank you to Skip Hollingsworth for letting me use his brilliant title). Through the course of my interviews and research, I developed three goals. First, I wanted to explore the social structures that motivate women to turn on each other in the face of sexual misconduct allegations. It is an extremely common event that is difficult for us to discuss for fear that it will victim blame and detract from the social changes that need to occur. Second, I wanted to use Cathy and Donna’s personal life experiences, from childhood through adulthood, to explore why some women choose to report these crimes and others do not. Finally, the judicial misconduct complaint process and the rule of lifetime appointments, without regard to laws or ethical behavior, needs a very bright line shown upon it. Most people are unaware and would be appalled to know that such low standards apply to those who have been sworn to uphold the laws and civil rights of this country.

Weinstein and Cosby opened the public minds to how money, power, and social influence can be just as powerful as a ski mask and a knife when it comes to sexual assault. But so can long, black robes. The revelations surrounding Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings and the recent failure of the federal court system to discipline Federal Judge Alex Kozinski for multiple reports of sexual harassment are just two examples. My assessment of the Kent story suggests there are many more examples, but lifetime appointments and the complete lack of a transparent system to deal with these personalities thwart these stories from coming to light. As disgusted as we were about Weinstein and Cosby, the idea that the very people charged with the responsibility of upholding the laws of this country are blatantly breaking them with impunity must be addressed. Perversion of Justice is my small contribution to this important conversation.

At 93,782 words, the book is finished and I am currently looking for a literary agent to not only help usher this story to press, but create an ongoing relationship for future works exploring social justice and discrimination. Please feel free to contact me at asherry at alissasherry.com.

Share

Working Title: Murder, Racism, and Truth in Gary, Indiana

“An amazing feature of Gary, built as it is on shifting sands, is that it is actually so solid, so permanent, so strong. There is nothing suggestive of the shoddy or the temporary.”

—Robert Shackleton, The Book of Chicago, 1920

And that was how Gary was when Sean Kelly’s father moved the family there in 1940 to take a job in the steel mill. By the time Sean was 17, the Great Migration had continued to bring African Americans to the region with hopes of freedom and living wages. When Sean was 10, Mattie Johnson and her family moved into the house across the street. She was also 10, and Sean’s mother, in defiance of her husband, arranged with Mattie’s mother for Sean to safely walk Mattie to and from school everyday. The schools in Gary had never been segregated like they were in the south, not as a matter of law anyway. By the time he was 17, Sean was in love with Mattie, as she was with him.  The two found their ways to ease the electricity between them, as all teenagers do, but otherwise walked side by side as if the whole world was watching.

On one such walk home, Sean stopped in the corner store for a pop while Mattie waited for him outside. When he came out, she was gone. Completely disappeared. Her body was found two weeks later, beaten, bound, and sexually assaulted….

Fast forward 20 years later. Sean is a Gary Police Detective determined to find Mattie’s killer amidst a city riddled with crime, corruption, and racial division. His estranged father, now widowed, angry and alone, had long ago succumbed to white flight and moved to the suburbs to brood in his short-sighted righteous indignation. Sean refused to leave the city he loved and refused to move on emotionally from Mattie’s murder.

Murder, Racism, and Truth uses the fictional story of Sean’s quest for Mattie’s killer as a way to explore the complexities of racism, white privilege, the working class, and the racial politics of city once known as the “most American of all American cities.” Sean’s obsession with finding Mattie’s killer forces him to confront truths about his own family’s ties to the KKK in the 1920s as well as confront his own white privilege, despite his purposeful decision to defy his father and stay with his beloved Gary, Indiana at a time when white flight was at it’s peak.

Historically, the goal of Murder, Racism, and Truth is to explore and possibly overturn the overly simplistic narrative of Gary’s demise as created by the droves of whites who left during that time in history – that Black people were responsible for their own undoing and they, alone, ruined this once booming city. The understanding of a more accurate narrative and the discovery of Mattie’s real killer converge in this suspense-filled historical fiction novel.

Share