Several month ago federal judge Samuel Kent did something really bad. What did he do? We didn't know for sure, because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (which was charged with investigating Judge Kent's judicial misconduct) kept it confidential. The Fifth Circuit did issue a reprimand - in other words, "Shame on you."
The reprimand was short on details. The public, according to the Fifth Circuit, did not have a right to know. All that the reprimand said was that Judge Kent's actions "violated the mandates of the Canons of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges and are deemed prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts and the administration of justice." The Fifth Circuit covered the rest up.
Even though the Fifth Circuit had the power to refer Judge Kent to Congress for an impeachment investigation, the Fifth Circuit refused to. Rather, all the Fifth Circuit would do was issue a reprimand. The rest was kept secret.
Reporters from the Houston Chronicle sensed that there was more to the story. After all, judges are reluctant to censure other judges. You must do something really bad to get into trouble. So the Chronicle investigated.
Preliminary reports did not paint a happy picture. Witness interviews indicated that Judge Kent committed something beyond "mere" sexual harassment, but short of rape.
After further investigation, Judge Kent was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault. (Via Volokh).
According to the Indictment, Judge Kent "did engage in the intentional touching, both directly and through the clothing, of the groin, breast, inner thigh, and buttocks of [the complaining witness] with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, [and] degrade ." He also allegedly attempted to put the woman's mouth on his penis.
Some will say that these are only allegations, just as some said that people like me were engaged in a "serious campaign of distortion" when we demanded that public officials answer publicly for their misconduct.
Yes, Judge Kent is presumed innocent. However, the Department of Justice does not lightly indict sitting federal judges. The case against Judge Kent must be extremely strong, or else he would never have been indicted.
While Judge Kent's alleged misconduct is troubling, something else is still more troubling. Namely, the Fifth Circuit's conduct.
The Fifth Circuit knew of the allegations that formed the basis of the Indictment. Yet what did the judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (led by "tough on crime" Edith Jones) do?
They issued a mere reprimand, did not make the details of his conduct public, and did not ask Congress to investigate further. They were willing to let the case end at the reprimand.
Self-discipline must go. What Judge Kent is accused of doing borders on rape. Yet the Fifth Circuit wanted to pass upon the issue with a simple, "It's our little secret."
Not, it's not your little secret. Judges are public officers, paid by the public, and entrusted with extraordinary power by the public. When a judge breaks the law, we have a right to know. We have a right to write our Congresswomen and Senators to let them know about a sitting federal judge who abuses his power.
We cannot exercise our rights as citizens when judges cover-up judicial misconduct. Congress must reform judicial disciplinary proceedings. At the very least, allegations of judicial misconduct must be made public. Judges have made it clear that they do not want to punish other judges. Fine. Leave the dirty work to the public and Congress.