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Critiques of the Judiciary
CANON 2:  A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities.
-- Model Code of Judicial Conduct, 2004 Ed.

How to Obtain a Favorable Court Ruling

Befriending the Judge Generally Works

Indianapolis judge Becky Pierson-Treacy didn't need to rely on a statistical analysis to appreciate the role that money plays in obtaining a favorable court ruling.  Her reelection flier implied that a campaign contribution of $1,000 would suffice.  Similarly, Las Vegas judge Gene T. Porter simply put out an empty punch bowl at lavish dinner cruise fund raisers, to be filled by lawyers seeking "a hedge against bad things happening."  But the secure acquisition of a favorable judgment requires something other than just parting with some cash.  As demonstrated by G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., former U.S. District Court Judge, Eastern District of Louisiana, nothing takes the place of a close friendship that has been cultivated by an attorney who would appear before him in court.

In 2001, Ada Turner injured her back when the small fishing boat she was in was tossed into the air as a yacht driven by Neal Pleasant passed by at high speed.  Turner and her husband sued Pleasant, the yacht's owner, and the company that insured it.  Attorney Ernest Souhlas represented the Turners.  Defending the case was attorney Richard A. Chopin, who was assisted by expert witness Dr. Christopher Cenac, MD.  Unknown and not revealed to the plaintiffs, was that both Chopin and Cenac were close personal friends of Judge Porteous, to whom the case was assigned.  Porteous and Chopin went on hunting trips together during the pendency of the case as well as during its appeal.  The trips were sponsored by Diamond Offshore, an oil rig company with headquarters in Houston, Texas. 

Following a non-jury trial, but before Judge Porteous issued his decision, Souhlas discovered that Porteous had gone hunting with Chopin while the case was pending.  Porteous entered a judgement in favor of the defendants, and shortly afterward Souhlas filed a motion for a new trial and moved to recuse the judge.  Porteous denied Souhlas's motion, remarking: "This Court finds that no reasonable man would harbor doubts about this judge's impartiality, and therefore, recusal is not warranted."  Souhlas appealed to the Fifth Circuit, but the appeal was denied on the basis that the conflict of interest allegation was unsubstantiated.

It was not until the U.S. House of Representatives during impeachment proceedings made note of Judge Porteous's conflict of interest in the Turner v. Pleasant case1-3 that attorneys for the plaintiffs found an opportunity to challenge Porteous's decision on the basis of his refusal to disqualify himself.4  A new complaint, filed June 25, 2010, was assigned to Judge Lance M. Africk who, like Porteous, ruled in favor of the defendants.5  The case was once more appealed to the Fifth Circuit, and although the facts of the case remained unchanged, the appellate court reversed itself and on November 23, 2011, remanded the case to the lower court for a new trial,6 where it was reassigned to Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown.5

Porteous case resurfaces in appeals court; Judges to consider allegations of cronyism in 2004 decision
November 26, 2011

There is new fallout from the allegations of cronyism and illegal gifts that spurred the U.S. Senate last year to impeach and convict New Orleans federal judge Thomas Porteous.

In an unusual reversal of its own earlier ruling, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this week reopened a 2004 judgment in a personal injury claim over allegations that Porteous and defense attorney Richard Chopin conspired to hide their tight relationship, which included hunting trips.

The ruling reflects findings contained in a March 2010 U.S. House of Representatives report that chronicled myriad allegations against Porteous, prompting his removal.

The Senate last December found that Porteous, 64, took money from attorneys and bail bondsmen with business before the court, lied in his personal bankruptcy filing and concealed the corruptions in statements to the Senate.

Porteous, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, is one of just eight federal judges ever to be tossed from office by a Senate vote. His was the first impeachment trial since the Senate acquitted Clinton of obstruction and perjury in 1999.

In the case reopened Wednesday, Ada and Ronnie Turner claimed they were on a small fishing boat on the Intercoastal Waterway in Houma in 2001 when Neil Pleasant sped past in a yacht, tossing their boat in the air and injuring Ada Turner's back when she landed.

They sued Pleasant; the yacht's owner, RPIA of Delaware; and the Standard Fire Insurance Company. After a judge trial, Porteous ruled against them, citing the testimony of Dr. Christopher Cenac Sr., a medical expert for the defense.

In a written opinion issued Wednesday, 5th Circuit Court Judge Leslie Southwick found that the Turners had met a stiff burden to reopen the case, showing they were stymied in their attempt to root out the relationships among Porteous, defense attorney Richard Chopin and the medical expert, who was hired by Chopin to testify against the Turners.

Chopin had "served as an intermediary when a company unrelated to this litigation provided Judge Porteous with all-expenses-paid hunting trips," Southwick wrote. "Chopin accompanied Judge Porteous on these trips, sharing a room at least twice."

Cenac and Porteous also went on luxury hunts and "certainly appeared to be friends," the appeals court judge found.

After Porteous ruled against the Turners in their lawsuit, their attorney sought a new trial and to have Porteous recused on the grounds that the judge and lawyer were hunting buddies.

Chopin labeled it a "reprehensible" attack on Porteous' integrity. Rather than spell out the relationship, Chopin refused to "dignify the plaintiffs' allegations by according them any additional print."

Porteous refused the request for a new trial, saying he found "that no reasonable man would harbor doubts about this judge's impartiality."

While an appeal to that decision was pending, Porteous and Chopin shared a room in early 2005 on another hunting trip, according to the House report. Two months later, the 5th Circuit upheld the judge's ruling, calling the allegations unsubstantiated.

Porteous "made deceptive statements that distorted the factual record as to his relationship" with Chopin, leaving the appeals court blind, the House report found.

The Turners filed for a new review of the case after reading the House report. It also mentioned that while the Turners' lawsuit was pending, Porteous was a guest of Cenac while he was king of the Washington, D.C., Mardi Gras in 2003.

Assuming the allegations are true, "there is a reasonable inference that Porteous and Chopin conspired to prevent the Turners from ever learning the truth about Porteous' bias," Southwick wrote.

Calls to Chopin, as well as Pleasant's current attorney, Elton Foster, and the Turners' lawyer, Russell Ramsey, were not returned Friday. Porteous could not be reached.

The appeals court reversed the dismissal of the Turners' appeal and sent the case back to district court.

Copyright 2011, The Times-Picayune
Publishing Corporation

From: John Simerman, "Porteous case resurfaces in appeals court; Judges to consider allegations of cronyism in 2004 decision," The Times-Picayune , New Orleans, November 26, 2011, National, p. A-1.  John Simerman can be reached at jsimerman@timespicayune.com.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.

“Judge Porteous, when faced with allegations that would threaten to disclose his relationship with parties and attorneys who had given him things of value, handled the motion in a manner calculated to seal off further inquiry into those relationships.”

See: Excerpts of House Report 111-427
111th Congress, 2d Session, March 4, 2010.

  1. House Report 111-427, Impeachment of G. Thomas Porteous Jr., Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, March 4, 2010.

  2. House Resolution 1031, Impeaching G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, for high crimes and misdemeanors, March 11, 2010

  3. U.S. Senate Report, On the Impeachment of Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., November 16, 2010.

  4. Michelle Massey, "Couple alleges Porteous acted improperly at trial, requests new trial," The Louisiana Record, July 7, 2010, http://www.louisianarecord.com/news/228051-couple-alleges-porteous-was-impartial-requests-new-trial, accessed 12/28/2011.

  5. Turner v. Pleasant, Docket, Case No. 10-cv-01823, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, June 25, 2010.

  6. Turner v. Pleasant, Case No. 11-30129, U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, November 23, 2011.





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