House votes to impeach Porteous; Senate trial could oust federal judge
WASHINGTON Judge Thomas Porteous on Thursday became the 15th judge impeached by the House of Representatives.
The House voted unanimously on four separate impeachment resolutions, sending the matter to the Senate for a trial.
Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said a
Porteous continues to receive his $174,000 federal judicial salary, though he has been barred from hearing cases since September 2008. That ban is scheduled to expire in September unless the Senate removes him from office or he resigns. Otherwise, Porteous would be able to resume hearing cases in September.
There were no signs Thursday that Porteous is contemplating resignation, though his portrait has already been removed from a gallery of judges photos in the
"We expected today's vote and have known since the first congressional hearing that we would be facing a Senate trial," Porteous' attorney, Richard Westling, said.
"Litigants have the right to expect a judge hearing their case will be fair and impartial, and avoid even the appearance of impropriety," said Rep. Adam Schiff,
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner,
Westling criticized the House for voting to impeach the judge, even though the Justice Department decided not to file criminal charges, disputing Schiff's contention that the prosecutors might have brought criminal charges if it were not for the statute of limitations. It was "based purely on a lack of sufficient credible evidence.
"Unfortunately, the House has decided to disregard the Justice Department's decision and to move forward with impeachment," Westling said. "As a result, we will now turn to the Senate to seek a full and fair hearing of all of the evidence."
The first impeachment article, approved Thursday
Together, the four articles accused Porteous of taking money, expensive meals and other gifts from lawyers and a bail bond company with business before him and making false statements in a personal bankruptcy filing.
Though much of the "improper conduct" occurred when he was a state judge, the Judiciary Committee decided he had an obligation to disclose his actions during his nomination and confirmation process in 1994. He was appointed to the U.S. District Court in New Orleans by President Bill Clinton.
In concluding that Porteous committed "high crimes and misdemeanors," the Constitution's criteria for impeachment, the Judiciary Committee accused the judge of engaging "in a pattern of conduct that is incompatible with the trust and confidence placed in him as a federal judge."
Rep. Steve Scalise,
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers,
Porteous' attorneys have maintained that he made some personal mistakes, all a result of problems with gambling and drinking. But they insisted he handled all cases before him professionally and without bias.
Porteous attended some of the five days of hearings conducted by a House Judiciary Committee task force, but he did not speak.
Westling, his attorney, was allowed to ask questions of witnesses, including two lawyers and two executives from a bail bond company who admitted providing gifts to the judge over many years.
One witness, Jefferson Parish attorney Robert Creely, said his firm received special court appointments from Porteous, when he was a state judge in Jefferson Parish, and was asked to return some of the proceeds back to the judge.
Only 14 other judges have been impeached by the House. The last was Samuel Kent of Texas in June. He was accused of sexual assault, making false and misleading statements and obstructing and impeding an official proceeding. Kent resigned before the Senate scheduled a trial.
Only eight judges in U.S. history have been removed by Senate vote.
Rep. Alcee Hastings,
In 2008, the Judicial Conference of the United States voted unanimously to refer Porteous' case to the House for possible impeachment action, citing substantial evidence Porteous repeatedly committed perjury, willfully and systematically concealing information. It also moved to take the maximum punitive action against the judge, suspending him from hearing cases for two years.
Copyright 2010, The Times-Picayune
From: Bruce Alpert, "House votes to impeach Porteous; Senate trial could oust federal judge," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Friday, March 12, 2010, National,