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The Urinator and the Judge



The wicked are wicked no doubt, and they go astray and they fall. . . but who can tell the mischief which the very virtuous do?
-- William Makepeace Thackeray The Newcomes

Two federal employees have been in the news recently. One is a federal judge, the other is an IRS employee. The conduct of both was inspired by the same anatomical device. The judge was convicted of obstructing a judicial panel's investigation of charges he sexually assaulted two female employees. The IRS employee used the freight elevator as a urinal and has not yet been sentenced. Both did what they did because they thought they could get away with it. The urinator may be terminated. The harasser will resign at leisure.

Judge Samuel B. Kent of the Federal District Court in Galveston, Texas, pleaded guilty in February to an obstruction of justice charge. The plea was entered on the same day he was to be tried for 3 counts of abusive sexual contact and two counts of aggravated sexual assault. His victims were court employees in the courthouse in which he ruled.

According to reports the judge was attempting to bestow his judicial sexual favors on female courthouse employees who found his attention offensive instead of flattering. He was sentenced to 33 months in prison.

Judge Kent is probably surprised to be going to prison. When the allegations against him first surfaced in 2007, the 5th Circuit Judicial Council treated the charges as sexual harassment and conducted an in-house investigation. At its conclusion the judge was privately but severely punished. He was not allowed to work for four months. He was permitted to retain his salary and all benefits.

The Judicial Council didn't tell anyone why he'd been suspended. They were helping to protect his reputation so he could go back to work with it unsullied. The Council was probably surprised to find that what it thought suitable for private discipline was considered an indictable offense by a grand jury sitting in the Southern District of Texas. The ordinary citizens had better sense than the judicial council.

Following entry of his plea of guilty, Judge Roger Vinson, who presided over Judge Kent's trial, not only sentenced him to 33 months in prison but also ordered him to pay a fine of $1000. The fine seems low but Judge Vinson observed that as a result of the conviction Judge Kent would soon not be drawing a salary. Judge Vinson may be a good judge of the law but at least in this case, he showed himself to be a poor judge of character.

Disgraced, but not humiliated, Judge Kent has let it be known he has no intention of soon relinquishing his salary or other benefits. The only way he loses his benefits is if Congress impeaches him. That would probably take about a year. With that in mind Judge Kent let it be known that he would resign as a federal judge approximately a year after he entered prison.

As was observed at the outset, Judge Kent was not the only federal employee to make news in May. The other was Michael Hicks. Michael is a contract employee with the Internal Revenue Service in Detroit. Michael did not sexually harass any of his co-workers in the IRS office. He pee'd. That, in itself, did not distinguish him from any of the other employees in that office. It was his venue-selection that brought him to the attention of co-workers and resulted in criminal charges being filed against him last month.

For many months employees at the Internal Revenue Service data center noticed that the freight elevator emanated a peculiar smell that grew more pungent with the passage of time. Unable to determine the cause of the odor the Service installed a surveillance camera in the elevator and discovered that the cause of the odor was Michael Hicks. Confronted with the evidence, Mr. Hicks confessed. It turned out that rather than retiring to the public toilets when the occasion presented itself, he retired to the freight elevators to the same end.

One of Judge Kent's accusers said that during one of his attacks on her, he said he didn't care if the U.S. Marshal's office overheard the encounter because "everyone was afraid of him." He told her if he had 15 minutes with a jury he'd be exonerated. He didn't get his 15 minutes. He does get his salary and other benefits.

It is not yet known what Mr. Hicks will get. When asked why he engaged in what most would unhesitatingly describe as bizarre behavior, he told Delmaria Scott, who confronted him, that he did it because "he felt he could get away with it." In that respect he was like the federal judge. Here's hoping he gets to keep his job and his salary at least as long as Judge Kent. Maybe even longer.

Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com