This morning the United States Senate voted to convict Judge G. Thomas Porteous of Louisiana on all four articles of impeachment he faced. These convictions will remove him from his lifetime seat on the federal bench, making him only the eighth federal judge in U.S. history to suffer this fate, and strip him of the $174,000 pension he would have otherwise enjoyed.
Article I accused Judge Porteous, 63, of bringing the federal judiciary “into scandal and disrepute,” as a result of his “corrupt financial relationship” with attorneys appearing before him (who gave him “gifts”). The vote was unanimous: 96-0. Ouch.
Apparently the senators were not persuaded by Professor Jonathan Turley’s argument that Judge Porteous (E.D. La.) wasn’t guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, but simply “something of a moocher.” Think Kato Kaelin, but in a black robe.
Judge Porteous fared a bit better on the other three articles of impeachment….
The House Judiciary Committee today unanimously approved four articles of impeachment against U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous. The panel, consisting of 23 Democrats and 16 Republicans, sent the articles to the full House of Representatives.
A vote by a majority of the 435-member House to impeach Porteous, 63, would result in a Senate trial on whether to remove the New Orleans judge, a 1994 appointee of President Bill Clinton, from office. It takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a judge from what otherwise is a lifetime appointment.
After a year away from the bench, U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous Jr. will regain both his criminal and civil dockets next month, signaling an end to the long criminal investigation into his personal bankruptcy and possible misdeeds while a federal and Jefferson Parish jurist.
Chief Judge Ginger Berrigan said Thursday that Porteous will return to the U.S. District Court, Eastern District [of Louisiana], in mid-June after spending the past year secluded from friends and under the weight of grand jury hearings into his actions….
Porteous’ attorney, Kyle Schonekas, said federal prosecutors told him a few weeks ago that they didn’t intend to indict Porteous. He said the court then asked Porteous to resume duties at the court.
You may recall Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr. (E.D. La.), recently named an ATL Judge of the Day. He’s currently the subject of a federal criminal investigation, and he’s on an extended leave from the bench (to focus on the investigation and to mourn his recently deceased wife).
Judge Porteous has now applied to extend his leave for six more months. From the Times-Picayune:
When Porteous left six months ago, [Chief Judge Ginger] Berrigan divided his docket of 248 cases among the other federal district judges in New Orleans. A deputy court clerk said at the time that those cases could be returned to Porteous once the leave expired, but many of them could be settled by the time he returns next year.
Porteous was hearing only civil cases at the time he left, having recused himself from presiding over criminal matters after The Times-Picayune reported allegations that the judge had accepted fence repairs and other gifts from Bail Bonds Unlimited, the corrupt bail bonds company that was brought down in the federal Wrinkled Robe investigation.
In 2003, a seaman named Robert Hanna sued his employer, an offshore drilling company, after stairs on one of its ships collapsed beneath him and dropped him several feet to the floor.
His case against the Rowan Companies went to trial in U.S. District Court in New Orleans in August 2005. Within two days, attorneys announced they had agreed to a settlement, the judge dismissed the jury and everyone appeared to walk away satisfied.
What Hanna might not have known, however, is that while his personal injury suit was pending, well before trial began, Rowan treated the presiding judge, Thomas Porteous Jr., to a $1,000 hunting trip.
This calls to mind Justice Antonin Scalia’s controversial duck-hunting trip with Vice-President Dick Cheney. What is up with all these federal judges going hunting with litigants?
Now, let’s not overreact. The Times-Picayune puts the latest allegations in context:
There is no evidence that Porteous showed Rowan favorable treatment in court. Nor is the trip known to be a subject of the lengthy criminal investigation into the judge’s conduct, including a personal bankruptcy case he and his wife filed in 2001, under false names; his handling of a hospital suit involving several of his friends; and his relationship with former bail bonds magnate Louis Marcotte III, who pleaded guilty to corrupting two state judges at the Gretna court, where Porteous was a jurist until 1994.
In other words: “Sure, this looks bad. But hey, the judge has done worse stuff before!”
The article then quotes a bunch of legal ethics experts who opine that it probably wasn’t a great idea for Judge Porteous to accept a free hunting trip from a litigant appearing before him. We won’t bother excerpting them here — anyone who’s passed the MPRE could tell you that. Company Facing Suit Took Judge Hunting [New Orleans Times Picayune] UTR News and Views: August 23, 2004 [Underneath Their Robes] G. Thomas Porteous Jr. [FJC]
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