Winner of the 2021 IRE Book Award
Winner of the 2022 Texas Institute of Letters Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Nonfiction
In the age of #MeToo, learn how brave whistleblowers have dared to lift the federal court’s veil of secrecy to expose powerful judges who appear to defy laws they have sworn to uphold
Code of Silence tells the story of federal court employee Cathy McBroom, who had to flee her job as a case manager in Galveston, Texas, after enduring years of sexual harassment and assault by her boss—US District Judge Samuel Kent. Following a decade of firsthand reporting at the Houston Chronicle, investigative reporter Lise Olsen charts McBroom’s assault and the aftermath, when McBroom was thrust into the role of whistleblower to denounce a federal judge.
What Olsen discovered by investigating McBroom’s story and other federal judicial misconduct matters nationwide was shocking. With the help of other federal judges, Kent was being protected by a secretive court system that has long tolerated or ignored complaints about corruption, sexism, and sexual misconduct—enabling him to remain in office for years. Other powerful judges accused of judicial misconduct were never investigated and remain in power or retired with full pay, such as US Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski and Kozinski’s mentee, Brett Kavanaugh.
McBroom’s ultimate triumph is a rare story of redemption and victory as Judge Kent became the first and only federal judge to be impeached for sexual misconduct. Olsen also weaves in narratives of other brave women across the country who, at great personal risk, have reported federal judges to reveal how sexual harassment and assault occur elsewhere inside the federal court system. The accounts of the women and their allies who are still fighting for reforms are moving, intimate, and inspiring—including whistleblowers and law professors like Leah Litman, Emily Murphy, and novelist Heidi Bond, who emerged to denounce Kozinski in 2017. A larger group of women—and men—banded together to form a group called Law Clerks for Accountability, which is continuing to push for more reforms to the courts’ secretive complaint review system.
Code of Silence also reveals the role the press plays in holding systems of power in check. Kent would not have been charged had it not been for Olsen’s reporting and the Houston Chronicle’s commitment to the story.