I missed this when it happened a few days ago. But it's worth noting that Texas federal district Judge Samuel B. Kent pleaded guilty to charges of obstruction of justice last week, and is resigning from the bench as part of the plea deal:
No means no — even if you are a federal judge with a lifetime appointment and a larger-than-life ego.
That is but one lesson in the ugly and utterly avoidable case of United States of America v. Samuel B. Kent. On Monday, Kent, a U.S. district judge since 1990, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about sexually abusing his secretary. In exchange, federal prosecutors dropped five sex-crime charges alleging he groped two women. Kent could have faced up to life in prison if convicted of all charges, but prosecutors say they will not seek more than three years in prison for Kent, who is 59...
As part of his plea deal, Kent has agreed to retire immediately from the bench, likely avoiding impeachment by Congress, the constitutionally prescribed method for unseating a federal judge.
Eugene Volokh and I discussed the Kent case in a series of posts in 2007 and 2008. At the time, I took a certain amount of flak for urging that Congress investigate the possibility of of impeaching Kent. Kent's forced resignation makes the impeachment issue moot, of course. But it does suggest that there was good reason to consider the possibility until Kent finally agreed to resign on his own. As I pointed out in my first post on the subject, the sexual harrassment that caused Kent's downfall was the latest in a long series of ethically dubious actions by the judge. The federal judiciary will be the better for his absence.
UPDATE: Apparently, Judge Kent is trying to retire on "disability" rather than resign. If he manages to do the former, he would be eligible for a $169,300 annual pension for the rest of his life. Otherwise, he wouldn't get that amount, because he has not yet reached the age of 65 (the age federal judges must reach before being eligible to retire at full salary). In order for this dubious ploy to work, Kent would have to get the approval of Edith Jones, Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit, which seems unlikely. Also, as the above-linked article notes, some members of the House Judiciary Committee are threatening to move ahead with impeachment proceedings if Kent persists in trying to retire rather than resign.