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BOOK REVIEW: Code of Silence by Lise Olsen

Code of Silence

Sexual Misconduct by Federal Judges, the Secret System that Protects Them, and the Women Who Blew the Whistle 


Lise Olsen

Genre: Nonfiction | True Crime | #MeToo | The Courts

Publisher: Beacon Press

Publication Date: August 9, 2022

Number of Pages: 288

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. 

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Beacon Press

**autographed copies available through the following Texas Indie booksellers** 

Bookwoman (Austin) | Brazos Books (Houston) Deep Vellum (Dallas) | Galveston Bookshop Interabang Books (Dallas) | Literarity (El Paso)

Code of Silence is a highly relevant book detailing one federal court employee’s struggle with sexual harassment from a federal judge that was ultimately protected by a system designed to not hold him accountable. The #metoo era has exposed long-standing power imbalances that have unfortunately been shown to take place across any career field. As we have seen, there are very few areas of life where this type of behavior hasn’t happened. And when you’re dealing with federal judges who are appointed for life, the lack of consequences for such moral turpitude is both devastating and infuriating to a public who rightly demands an objective and unassailable adjudicator of justice. When those charged with protecting victims and advocating for justice go on to commit heinous crimes, our societal contract is destroyed, making it difficult to truly ever regain trust.

This is an incredibly well-written narrative that will engage and educate many readers on so many levels. The author’s depth of research and meticulously documented account presents not just a scholarly work, but a masterful storytelling encounter that will truly captivate. In fact, the writing is so organized and deftly presented that it almost becomes a suspenseful thriller; unfortunately, this isn’t fiction. Each piece of information enhances the tension and drives the pacing. It was difficult to put this book down and I completed it in a matter of days. While other books on this subject have certainly received more popularity and mainstream recognition, this is an excellent example of what compelling true crime looks like and could very well stand on its own as the definitive resource on the issue. And if you have read those more recognizable books, the story continues with this one. Her perspective and framing of the situation has me looking forward to reading her next investigative work!

A truly apropos book that is highly recommended. If you only take one non-fiction recommendation from me, make it this one.

5 stars.


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

“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.”

Rick Casey, San Antonio Report

A gutting new #metoo book.”

Rose Cahalan, Texas Monthly

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.

Anita Hill

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.

Houston Chronicle. 

Lise Olsen is a Texas-based investigative reporter and author who has uncovered many twisted tales, including crooked judges, an unjust execution, massive environmental disasters, myriad cases of corruption, and unsolved serial killings. Her reporting has contributed to the prosecutions of a former congressman and a federal judge, inspired laws and reforms, helped solve cold cases, restored names to unidentified murder victims, and freed dozens of wrongfully-held prisoners. Her work is featured in CNN’s “The Wrong Man” (2015) about the innocence claims of executed offender Ruben Cantu and the six-part A&E series on the victims of a 1970s serial killer, The Eleven, (2017).

CODE OF SILENCE is her first book – the paperback from BEACON PRESS is out this month. She is at work on a second book: the SCIENTIST AND THE SERIAL KILLER. 

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