U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent, usually in charge of dispensing justice, is to find himself on the other side of the bench as a defendant.
Kent was to make his first court appearance Wednesday after being indicted last week on federal sex crimes following a Department of Justice investigation. He is facing two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse.
If convicted of attempted aggravated sexual abuse, Kent could face up to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Each of the two counts of abusive sexual contact carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Kent's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, has said his client is innocent and will stay on the bench while he awaits trial.
Kent's former case manager, Cathy McBroom, accused the judge of physically harassing her in a sexual manner over a four-year period, starting in 2003. The final incident was in March 2007, when she said the judge pulled up her blouse and bra and tried to escalate contact until they were interrupted.
Her accusations were first investigated by the Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which suspended Kent in September 2007 for four months with pay but didn't detail the allegations against him.
As part of the judicial council's punishment, Kent was transferred to the busy Houston federal courthouse, where McBroom was relocated after reporting her allegations. Kent had been the only U.S. District Court judge in Galveston, an island beach town 50 miles southeast of Houston.
Until his indictment, Kent was known for writing humorous rulings peppered with sarcastic scoldings of lawyers. Kent, a federal jurist in Galveston since President George H.W. Bush appointed him in 1990, has not presided over any high-profile cases.
Kent is the first federal judge to be charged with sex crimes. Most other indictments of federal judges have involved corruption or other financial misdeeds.