House Starts Impeachment Proceedings Against Federal Judge Convicted in Sex Case

The House began impeachment proceedings this week against a federal judge sentenced to 33 months in prison for obstructing justice in a sex-related investigation.

Lawmakers are concerned that U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent, from Texas, will continue to collect his hefty judicial salary while he's behind bars should he remain on the bench.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., is starting an inquiry into the matter, while committee member Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., on Tuesday filed articles of impeachment against Kent.

The committee could act on that resolution after the inquiry, which the House panel approved by voice vote Wednesday.

Sensenbrenner said in a written statement that the House has "no alternative" but to impeach Kent, claiming the judge is trying to seek disability so he can retire early and receive a $174,000 annual pension payment for life.

Unless Kent, 59, is granted disability, he must stay a judge until he reaches the age of 65 in order to retain his salary and subsequent pension payments. If he resigns before that age, without disability status, he gets nothing.

Sensenbrenner wants to kick Kent off the bench and make sure he gets zilch.

"He should not be receiving a lifetime judicial salary when he violated the very laws he took an oath to uphold," Sensenbrenner said.

Kent pleaded guilty in February to lying to investigators probing complaints of inappropriate sexual conduct with two court employees.

His lawyer reportedly had claimed the conduct with the two women was consensual, but prosecutors argued it was not.

The sex crime charges were dropped after Kent pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.

Sensenbrenner has successfully sought the impeachment of three other federal judges.

"He's three for three," spokeswoman Wendy Riemann said.

The Judiciary committee has been investigating another federal judge, Thomas Porteous of Louisiana, who is charged with presiding over a trial in which lawyers involved had given him money. He also is accused of filing for bankruptcy under a false name.

The vote Wednesday allows the committee's task force investigating Porteous to also investigate Kent, a first step in the impeachment process.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., cautioned the committee against acting too quickly because of Kent's claim that he may suffer from bipolar disorder. She said it shouldn't excuse his criminal behavior, but said is grounds for disability retirement.

"Mental illness is a real disease and I hope that the (committee's investigating) task force will consider whether or not that is in fact the case," Lofgren said.

Sensenbrenner complained the committee should act more swiftly against Kent than Porteous because he has pleaded guilty and been sentenced.

Kent was the first sitting federal judge to be indicted on sex crimes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.