Senate to Begin Impeachment Proceedings Against Federal Judge

Posted June 23, 2009 at 3:09pm

Updated: 6 p.m.

The Senate is likely to take the first step on Wednesday to remove from office a federal judge who refused to immediately resign following his conviction on obstruction of justice charges.

The House voted Friday to impeach U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent of Texas after he was convicted on charges of giving false testimony to investigators who were looking into allegations that he sexually abused and harassed female court employees.

The Senate is expected to receive the articles of impeachment Wednesday from the House. Following that, the chamber will likely pass two resolutions — one calling on Kent to submit his defense and one appointing an evenly-split, bipartisan impeachment committee, a senior Senate Democratic aide said.

After a few weeks of gathering evidence, the full Senate is likely to conduct a trial that could end in Kent’s removal from office. It was unclear if the bipartisan impeachment committee would be able to complete its work before the August recess or if the Senate would be able to act on Kent’s removal before then.

After his May conviction, Kent said he would resign, but not until June of 2010, according to published reports. As long as he remains a federal judge, he retains his $174, 000 salary and benefits — even while in prison. He began his 33-month sentence last week. A Senate conviction on the impeachment charges would remove him from the federal payroll.

The Senate’s deliberations on Kent’s conviction is likely to be held in closed session, the aide said. But the arguments presented by House Members acting as the prosecution team and a lawyer for Kentpresenting his defense would be in open session as would the vote.Two-thirds of Senators in attendance would have to vote to strip him of his judgeship.

Impeachment of any federal official is rare. The House has impeached just 18 officials — including former Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, as well as Kent; the Senate has only convicted seven of those 18.

The last time the Senate held an impeachment trial was to consider the 1998 case against Clinton, which stemmed from an affair he had with a White House intern. Clinton was ultimately acquitted and remained in office until the end of his second term in 2001.