The Florida federal judge appointed to preside over the criminal prosecution of U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent of the Southern District of Texas issued a gag order on Sept. 5 that essentially prevents courthouse staff and anyone connected with the prosecution or defense from making substantive comments to the media or that could get back to the media. In the order, Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida wrote that the order is necessary “to preserve a fair trial by an impartial jury by shielding jurors and potential jurors from prejudicial statements.” He took the action sua sponte only two days after Kent pleaded not guilty on Sept. 3 in Houston to two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse. The charges against Kent stem from a complaint filed by Cathy McBroom, Kent’s former case manager in Galveston. Vinson’s order prevents any extrajudicial statements or interviews that could interfere with a fair trial by courthouse personnel, prosecutors and their staff, employees of the U.S. Marshals Service, all law enforcement officers working on the case, McBroom, any other witnesses for either side, and Kent and his attorneys and staff. Vinson wrote that individuals can respond to questions about scheduling and can state facts about matters in the public record. The order specifically forbids divulging information about hearings held in chambers “or otherwise outside the presence of the public.” Vinson, who was assigned on Aug. 29 to hear Kent’s case, took judicial notice that the crimes with which Kent is charged have received extensive local and national publicity and he expects that to continue. “I also take judicial notice that the defendant, the alleged victim, and the prosecuting attorneys in this case have so far demonstrated a willingness to ‘try this case in the press’ and manipulate media coverage to gain favorable attention,” Vinson wrote in the order. Normally, I’d call Kent’s criminal defense attorney, Houston’s Dick DeGuerin, or prosecutor Peter Ainsworth, senior deputy chief for the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C., for comment on Vinson’s order. But I skipped that step, since they can’t talk about it.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys