A judicial panel that once suspended a federal judge accused of sexually abusing court workers said it will reopen its investigation now that new counts have been added to the criminal case.
The Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order saying it will investigate three new charges in a superseding indictment of U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent. It also will re-examine the original claims, but it won't take any action until Kent's trial, scheduled to begin next month, is finished.
Kent, the first federal judge charged with sex crimes, is accused of fondling two female court employees and trying to force them into sexual acts. He has pleaded not guilty.
In September 2007, the judicial council suspended Kent for four months with pay after a lengthy investigation of accusations made by one of the accusers, the judge's former court case manager, Cathy McBroom.
The order issued by the council last week and made public Monday granted a November 2007 request by McBroom's attorneys to have the council reconsider its punishment of Kent. Her attorneys wanted the matter referred to the Judicial Conference of the United States, which has the power to recommend Kent's impeachment by Congress.
Attorneys in the case did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment. A gag order limits what people connected to the case can say.
McBroom accused Kent of physical sexual harassment over a four-year period starting in 2003. She has said the alleged harassment ended in March 2007, when the judge pulled up her blouse and bra and tried to force her to perform oral sex.
The Associated Press does not normally name alleged victims of sexual abuse, but McBroom's attorney and her family have used her name in publicly discussing the case.
As part of his punishment from the judicial council, Kent was transferred from Galveston, where he was the only U.S. district judge, to Houston, 50 miles northwest.
The grand jury first indicted Kent in August on two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse following a U.S. Justice Department investigation into McBroom's complaints.
Last week, grand jurors added three new charges _ aggravated sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact and obstruction of justice _ that allege Kent on one or more occasions between January 2004 and January 2005 tried to force a second female court employee into a sexual act and lied about it to investigators.
If convicted, Kent faces up to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.