When imprisoned U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent handed a one-sentence resignation letter to Senate officials who were delivering a summons for his impeachment trial Thursday, it likely brought an end to the rare congressional proceeding to remove him from office.
Kent, who is serving a 33-month sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and admitting to sexual assaults on two female court employees, was impeached by the House in a unanimous vote June 19.
The Senate on Wednesday began organizing a trial expected to result in his expulsion him from the bench.
The 60-year-old judge from Galveston, Texas, previously announced he would resign June 1, 2010. But that only hastened the impeachment by House members outraged that he would continue to pocket his $174,000 annual salary while behind bars.
The Senate has never acted to remove an impeached official who voluntarily resigned from office, though Secretary of War William W. Belknap was acquitted after he resigned after his 1876 impeachment.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the new resignation letter had been sent to President Obama and a certified copy had been sent to the House for lawmakers to decide how to proceed.
“The Senate will determine appropriate action after the House has expressed its views about this development,” Mr. Reid said.
The four articles against Kent dealt with charges that he sexually molested a case worker and a secretary in his Galveston chambers and later made false statements to the FBI and to a federal appeals court committee investigating the two female employees’ complaints.
The judge has blamed his misconduct on personal tragedies such as the death of his first wife, alcoholism and possible mental illness.
He reported June 15 to begin serving his prison sentence at the Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayer, Mass. The prison provides treatment for inmates and was requested by Kent to address his alcoholism and other personal problems.
He could be released as early as November 2011 with good behavior.
Kent’s victims described to a House impeachment task force earlier this month how powerless they felt trying to fight off Kent’s repeated sexual attacks. They said the judge, often intoxicated, would force kisses upon them, pull at their clothes, and grope and fondle them.
“He also told me that he was the government,” one of the victims said. “He would make statements routinely: ‘I am the government, I’m the Lion King. It’s good to be king. I’m the emperor of Galveston, the man wearing the horned hat guiding the ship.’ ”
The House has impeached just 18 federal officials in more than 200 years, including 14 judges, two presidents, a senator and a Cabinet officer.
The House last impeached a federal judge 20 years ago when Walter Nixon was ultimately removed as chief judge for the Southern District of Mississippi. He lied to a grand jury about helping get drug charges dropped against a business partner’s son.