"Litigants have the right to expect a judge hearing their case will be fair and impartial, and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  Regrettably, no one can have that expectation in Judge Porteous' courtroom."
-- Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

House votes to impeach Porteous; Senate trial could oust federal judge
March 12, 2010

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.

A 12-member Senate committee will conduct the trial and recommend whether to remove Porteous from office. It would take a two-thirds Senate vote (67 senators voting to convict) to strip the 63-year-old Metairie resident of his lifetime appointment.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said a 12-member Senate committee, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, would be appointed by Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the GOP leader, to conduct a trial on the impeachment articles. He said the selections should come soon, though he couldn't specify a date.

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 first-floor lobby of the federal courthouse in New Orleans.

"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, D-Calif., who led a House task force that investigated Porteous. "Regrettably, no one can have that expectation in Judge Porteous' courtroom."

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said he has been part of many House investigations but never saw the "overwhelming and blatant corruption we have before us today. ... Judge Porteous is one of a kind, and it is time for him to receive his comeuppance."

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."

"Impeachable offenses are not restricted to indictable offenses
but rather are political crimes." [PDF]

Prof. Michael J. Gerhardt
December 15, 2009

Unanimously approved

The first impeachment article, approved Thursday 412-0, found the judge had engaged in misconduct by not disclosing his relationship with a lawyer in a federal case involving a Jefferson Parish hospital. The three subsequent articles were approved 410-0, 416-0 and 423-0.

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, R-Jefferson, said impeachment is needed "so that the Eastern District of Louisiana can once again provide the citizens a justice system free from corruption."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said "it's a sad day" when the House finds a public official has "betrayed his office." Conyers spoke one day after his wife, Monica, a former Detroit City Council member, was sentenced to 37 months in prison after her guilty plea to bribery.

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.

The Impeachment Task Force held four hearings late last year that focused on allegations of misconduct by Porteous, including:
  • Involvement in a corrupt kickback scheme;

  • Failure to recuse himself from a case in which he was involved;

  • Allegations that Porteous had made false and misleading statements, including concealing debts and gambling losses;

  • Allegations that Porteous asked for and accepted "numerous things of value, including meals, tips, home and car repairs for his personal use and benefit;"

  • Allegations that Porteous lied about his past to the U.S. Senate and to the FBI about his nomination to the federal bench "in order to conceal corrupt relationships."

After the impeachment vote, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Vir. were named impeachment managers for the Senate trial.

From: CNN Politics, "House votes to impeach federal judge from Louisiana," March 11, 2010, http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/03/11/louisiana.judge.impeached/index.html, accessed 03/16/10.

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.

15th impeachment

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, D-Fla., who was impeached and removed by the Senate as a federal district court judge in 1989 as a result of perjury and corruption charges, voted yes on all four impeachment articles.

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
Publishing Corporation

From: Bruce Alpert, "House votes to impeach Porteous; Senate trial could oust federal judge," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Friday, March 12, 2010, National, p. A1.  Bruce Alpert can be reached at balpert@timespicayune.com.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.