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Impeachment of the Hon. Robert F. Collins

Judge, Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
In 1991, Judge Robert Collins was convicted of receiving money from a twice-convicted drug dealer, Gary Young, who was seeking a lighter sentence for his crimes.  Young was also cooperating with federal prosecutors with whom he had signed a plea agreement.  Marked bribe money was passed to the judge through an unsuspecting mutual acquaintance, John Ross, a longtime friend of the judge.  Collins was sentenced to 82 months in a Florida prison, and Ross was convicted and sentenced to 88 months in a New Mexico prison.  Because federal judges have lifetime appointments, Collins continued to receive his $133,600 salary while in prison, motivating Congress to proceed with impeachment hearings that would be followed by a trial conducted by the U.S. Senate.  Collins, who never testified in his own defense, bypassed the process by resigning his judgeship while still in jail.

Impeachment Proceeding OK'd
June 24, 1993

WASHINGTON — Proceedings to oust jailed U.S. District Judge Robert Collins of New Orleans moved a step forward this week when the federal judiciary's governing body gave its approval to Congress to consider impeaching him.

The U.S. Judicial Conference sent a letter to the speaker of the House Tuesday certifying that Collins' conviction on bribery charges could be considered grounds for impeachment.

Collins, the first federal judge convicted of taking a bribe, is serving an 82-month term in prison in Florida. He has continued to receive his full annual salary of $133,600. Under the Constitution, federal judges have life tenure. The only way to remove them is by impeachment.

The move toward impeachment began in April, when Collins's last appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court.

The 5th Circuit Judicial Council — made up of district and appellate judges from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — gave a green light for impeachment proceedings last month.

The Judicial Conference then voted unanimously to do the same. The conference, chaired by the Supreme Court's chief justice, consists of the chief judges of the 13 appeals courts, a district judge from each of the 12 circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade.

Under the Constitution, the House votes whether to impeach a federal judge and the Senate holds a trial and votes on the specific charges. A two-thirds majority voting to convict on any one article would remove Collins.

While two members of the House Judiciary Committee have introduced impeachment resolutions, it is a painstaking and drawn-out procedure.

In the three recent proceedings to remove federal judges, the chairman of House Judiciary has assigned the case to a subcommittee that investigates and writes articles of impeachment.

The articles then are passed on to the full committee, then to the House and Senate.

Collins has not decided what to do about the impending congressional action, said Julian Murray, one of his attorneys. Collins, appointed by President Carter in 1978, was convicted in September 1991 of taking a $100,000 bribe from a drug smuggler. He started serving his sentence in December 1991.

Eleven federal judges have been impeached in the nation's history, and seven convicted following a Senate trial.

Three federal judges were removed from office in the past decade: Harry Claiborne of Nevada in 1986, Walter Nixon of Mississippi in 1989 and Alcee Hastings of Florida in 1989. Hastings is now a House member.

Copyright 1993, The Times-Picayune
Publishing Corporation
From: The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 24, 1993, National, p. 22.  John McQuaid is a Times-Picayune Washington bureau correspondent.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.















  • Collins Resigns Federal Judgeship; Resignation Letter is Given to Clinton
    August 7, 1993

    WASHINGTON — Jailed on a bribery conviction and facing impeachment proceedings by Congress, U.S. District Judge Robert Collins of New Orleans resigned from office Friday.

    Acting at Collins' behest, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., presented the judge's letter of resignation to President Clinton in a meeting Friday morning at the White House, an aide to Jefferson said.

    "I have decided it would be in the best interest of our country to resign this position," Collins wrote in the letter dated July 28. He said the resignation would take effect immediately upon Clinton's receiving the letter.

    The resignation brings Collins' 15-year career in the federal judiciary to a close.

    It was a career that began on a historical high note when he was chosen by President Carter in 1978 as the first black federal judge from the Deep South. It ended in disgrace, the result of 1991 conviction for receiving a $100,000 bribe from a marijuana smuggler.

    The resignation short-circuits the impeachment process that was under way in the House, where two motions to impeach Collins had been filed and the House Judiciary Committee was poised to begin the process of bringing formal charges.

    Because federal judges have life tenure, Collins had continued to receive his $133,600 annual salary while in prison — provoking sharp criticism from some legislators and citizens groups.

    Julian Murray, one of Collins' attorneys, said that despite the likelihood he would be officially removed from office, the judge had wanted to go through with impeachment and trial by the Senate because he never took the stand during his 1991 trial and wanted to tell his side of the story.

    "It was important to him to speak out," Murray said. "He would have preferred that history not write him off in the way that it obviously is going to."

    But Murray said Collins, serving an 84-month term in a federal prison near Panama City, Fla., began to reconsider in recent weeks and ultimately decided impeachment would do more harm than good.

    "He weighed speaking out against what it would mean to his family, the court and the community," Murray said. "He decided on balance that it would do more harm to people and institutions he cared about than it would benefit him."

    Copyright 1993, The Times-Picayune
    Publishing Corporation
    From: The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, August 7, 1993, Metro, p. 1.  John McQuaid is a Times-Picayune Washington bureau correspondent.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.

    As did Collins, the Hon. Samuel B. Kent, Judge, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, resigned his lifetime judicial appointment rather than face possible impeachment proceedings by Congress.  On February 23, 2009 he pleaded guilty to nonconsensual sexual conduct with two female employees over the course of many years and lying about it to the Fifth Circuit Judicial Council.  Kent, 59, who faces prison time, also claims a health disability that would entitle him to receive full salary (approximately $169,300) for the rest of his life. 
    • Pamela A. MacLean, "First Federal Judge Ever Indicted for Sex Crimes Pleads Guilty to Obstruction, Steps Down," New York Lawyer, February 24, 2009, http://www.nylj.com/nylawyer/ news/09/02/022409e.html, (remove space), accessed 02/24/09.
    • James Gill, "Most likely to be impeached?" The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, February 27, 2009, Metro, p. 7.

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