The classic case of legal audacity is the man who kills his parents and demands sympathy because he is an orphan. A close second is the federal judge who pleads guilty to a crime against the justice system — and then insists on continuing to draw his salary from prison. That is the galling position of Judge Samuel Kent. The House should impeach him if he does not have the good sense to leave office. Judge Kent, a federal district court judge from Texas, pleaded guilty in February to obstruction of justice for lying to officials who were investigating sexual harassment charges against him. As part of a plea deal, he admitted that he had had nonconsensual sexual contact with two female court employees. He was sentenced to up to 33 months in prison and is scheduled to enter jail next week. That does not, however, remove him from the bench. Federal judges serve for life, unless they give up their positions or are impeached. Judge Kent submitted his resignation this month, but he made it effective June 2010. That means that for the next year, even while he is behind bars, he will draw a salary of $174,000, plus benefits.
There seems no doubt that he doesn’t deserve to be paid. He has violated his oath to uphold the law, and he will not be doing any judging from prison. What he may have decided is that it would take Congress about a year to complete impeachment and a trial — so why not keep getting paid as long as possible. Things may move faster. The House Judiciary Committee this week voted 29-to-0 to approve articles of impeachment. The full House could act soon, and if it votes to impeach, the case would be sent to the Senate for trial. Judge Kent can save Congress time and himself more humiliation by resigning effective immediately. If he refuses, Congress should not delay in exercising good sense and its constitutional prerogative to stop his undeserved paychecks from being delivered.