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Friday, August 29, 2008

It's Official: Judge Kent Is Not Funny

Judge Samuel Kent, once the sole district judge in the Southern District of Texas, Galveston Division, has been indicted on sexual abuse charges after an investigation lasting several months. He is alleged to have assaulted a member of his court staff in 2003 and again in 2007. Judge Kent is widely known as the author of a number of humorous procedural decisions, such as his opinions denying a motion to transfer venue, transferring a case sua sponte, and criticizing the quality of the parties' briefs on a motion for summary judgement (that last one got him a reprimand). Two of those opinions are in my Civil Procedure textbook, which means I'll be teaching them again next spring.

I've always enjoyed reading these opinions, but I've always felt a little guilty about that. While amusing in the abstract, they are distinctly less amusing when you recall that the rights of real parties were affected by the outcome. The pervasive use of humor in the opinions, in that light, seems more cruel than light-hearted. (For more, see Steven Lubet's article in the Green Bag.) Nevertheless, they make for a good break in the middle of an otherwise dreary chapter on venue.

So, how should I teach the two Kent cases? Should I skip over them? Not mention the indictment? A sexual abuse charge is certainly a mood-killer. Here's my tentative plan: I'll use the case as a teaching moment, much as I did once when teaching J.N.A. Realty Corp. v. Cross Bay Chelsea, Inc., a great opinion on the avoidance of forfeiture doctrine by Chief Judge Sol Wachtler of the New York Court of Appeals. I.e., someone's being funny, or brilliant, or famous, does not necessarily mean that they are entitled to respect, or not evil. Mood-killer or no, I think my students may get more out of that than "Alas, this Court's kingdom for a commercial airport!"

Posted by Bruce Boyden on August 29, 2008 at 01:16 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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I find I have the same problem about seeing Woody Allen movies ever since her married his daughter.

I'm on the peripheriy of the legal academicy so I had not seen those decisions befor3e. Oh my god. I can certainly see use in teaching with them. And maybe being a bully fits his crime.

Posted by: RCinProv | Aug 30, 2008 8:14:24 PM

Judge Kent has always been a bully toward lawyers. An indictment is not a conviction, but it certainly would be no surprise to learn that he bullied his staff (in a particularly rotten way) as well.

Steven Lubet

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Aug 29, 2008 1:57:37 PM

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