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Friday, January 9, 2009

Obstruction of justice charge 'upped the ante' against Kent

The government raised the stakes in the criminal case against U.S. District Judge Sam Kent, now accusing a man who swore to protect the system with thwarting it instead, legal experts said Wednesday.

They said the obstruction of justice charge added with sexual abuse allegations against Kent this week boosts the government's overall case in several ways. That new charge may be the easiest to prove and carries a hefty 20-year sentence. It also takes the matter beyond the "he said/she said" standoff of the sexual charges.

"This has significantly upped the ante," said Arthur Hellman, a federal judicial disciplinary expert and professor at the University of Pittsburgh law school.

"Certainly the sexual charges are very serious. But obstruction of justice is a particularly serious charge when the accused is a federal judge," Hellman said. "If proved, his career — not just as a judge, but as a lawyer — would be over."

Kent, a jurist based in Galveston for most of his career, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to all six federal criminal charges against him. The judge, who still handles only certain civil cases out of a Houston office, has vociferously denied any wrongdoing.

He was indicted in August on three counts of abusive sexual contact or aggravated sexual abuse against a former case manager. [Mark Godsey]

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