BOOK

Code of Silence


Investigative Reporters and Editors' Award Winner of the 2022 Investigative Reporters and Editors'  Book Award.
Winner of the 2022 Texas Institute of Letters' Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Nonfiction.


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About Code of Silence


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 whistle-blower 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 even assault has occurred elsewhere inside throughout the federal court system. The accounts of the women and their allies who are still fighting for reforms are moving, intimate, and inspiring-including whistle-blowers 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.

Lise Olsen is represented by Susan Canavan with the Waxman Literary Agency.


Radio and Podcast Coverage

Texas Public Radio
A code of silence protects federal judges from accountability - Interview with David Martin Davies of Texas Public Radio. Listen to Podcast


Houston Matters
Exposing Sexual Misconduct by Judges -
Interview with Craig Cohen of Houston Public Media


Code of Silence Praise and Reviews


"A long overdue exposé on how the judicial system suppresses claims of sexual harassment against judges. In this new era of reckoning with sexual assault and harassment, Code of Silence is essential reading for anyone looking to understand how institutions subvert efforts to end gender-based violence."

-Anita Hill

"Olsen debuts with a deeply reported exposé of how the U.S. federal court system enables abusive behavior by judges who are appointed for life...An enraging and eye-opening account of corruption and abuse within the halls of justice." Read review

-Publishers Weekly

"Code of Silence is a beautifully written, disturbing as hell example of how the American experiment fails when it lets men set themselves up as kings." Read review

-Houston Chronicle

An investigative reporter reveals flaws in how Americans hold federal judges accountable for sexual misconduct and shows how whistleblowers have brought some to justice. A well-documented exposé of a broken system for policing errant federal judges. Read full review

-Kirkus - Code of Silence


"Another "true crime" book is being published later this month. But Code of Silence by Lise Olsen is not like most books - or podcasts -of that popular genre. For starters, there is no murder. We know who dunnit from the beginning. And it is anything but insensitive toward the victims and their families, a common criticism of many true crime stories. The culprit this time wasn't a marginal member of society. U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent was a federal judge, known for both his brilliance and his bullying." Read review

-Rick Casey, San Antonio Report

"A gutting new #metoo book," Read review

-Rose Cahalan, Texas Monthly


"Another "true crime" book is being published later this month. But Code of Silence by Lise Olsen is not like most books - or podcasts -of that popular genre. For starters, there is no murder. We know who dunnit from the beginning. And it is anything but insensitive toward the victims and their families, a common criticism of many true crime stories. The culprit this time wasn't a marginal member of society. U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent was a federal judge, known for both his brilliance and his bullying." Read review

"As a journalist Olsen is tenacious in her pursuit of judicial wrongdoing, and sensitive in the way she paints the women that are at the center of her endeavors. This new entry in the #MeToo genre is not to be missed."


"CODE OF SILENCE is a classic story -- of villainous oppressors and vulnerable targets. You would think it was a fairy tale, except it is wrenchingly true. Lise Olsen, one of a growing class of heroic journalists who acted when all the other agencies of governance failed, tells the story of the men who routinely sexually abused and harassed the women in their power, and, wait for it, they were judges. Who will judge the judges, indeed? Thanks in part to Olsen, the women got some justice in the end. A riveting and eye-opening read."


"In Code of Silence, Lise Olsen, one of journalism's finest investigative reporters, exposes what goes on in the most secret of chambers, showing how far too often, and for far too long, federal judges have been able to abuse their extraordinary power with impunity."

-Ken Armstrong, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and
co-author of Unbelievable, as seen on Netflix

"Lise Olsen is a masterful investigative reporter and storyteller. She was the first to uncover the full story of Judge Samuel Bristow Kent and the victims he harmed. Her book goes right to the heart of judicial corruption - and the complaint system that protects federal judges. Harrowing and redemptive."

-Skip Hollandsworth, author of The Midnight Assassin and executive editor of Texas Monthly




Related Articles


July 2022 - "All Booked Up," from the Nebraska Quarterly. Read article.

March 2022 -Code of Silence won the 2022 Texas Institute of Letters' Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Nonfiction. Read more about the TIL literary prize winners and finalists in this press release.

November 29, 2021 - Houston Chronicle Investigative reporter Lise Olsen's newbook explores the secret world of #MeToo in federal courts.
Read article

October 22, 2021 - National Law Journal Interview: The New Book Exposing Flaws in Judicial Misconduct Reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen

Lise Olsen originally investigated the saga of Judge Samuel Kent and revealed the content of a secret misconduct complaint filed by Cathy McBroom as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. Here are some of those stories:

Details emerge in judge Kent scandal Chron.com News
From nude photos to lying Federal judges.Chron.com News

The Chronicle also published a series in 2009 about flaws in the judicial disciplinary system. Here's one of those stories.
Secrecy may help protect misbehaving judges



Click here to access the Code of Silence archive of judicial disciplinary orders