MARCH 12, 2010
A crooked Louisiana federal judge who took bribes from lawyers to pay off gambling debts has become the 15th in the nation’s history to be impeached by the House of Representatives for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Removing a federal judge from his or her lifetime position is a tough feat that requires overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing yet this case was a virtual slam dunk. For years U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Portreous took money and valuable gifts from attorneys with cases before him and he hid assets, filed for bankruptcy under a bogus name and defied a bankruptcy court’s order relating to credit.
His many transgressions were discovered during an FBI investigation of state judges in New Orleans’s Jefferson Parish, where Portreous served until Bill Clinton named him to the federal bench in 1994. During a lengthy criminal probe, Porteous offered incriminating information relating to the broad judicial misconduct investigation and he was subsequently suspended from hearing cases though he continues collecting his $174,000 annual salary.
In November Porteous sued the congressional task force that just impeached him in a desperate effort to block it from removing him, alleging that the committee illegally used testimony he gave under a promise of immunity to make a case for his ouster. Prosecutors agree not to use immunized testimony against defendants but the deal doesn’t effect impeachment proceedings which are conducted by federal legislators.
In its unanimous decision to impeach Porteous this week the House approved four articles accusing the shady judge of taking money, meals and other expensive gifts from lawyers and a bail bond company and of making false statements in his personal bankruptcy filing. The House Judiciary Committee said that although much of the judge’s "improper conduct" occurred when he was a state judge, he had an obligation to disclose his actions during his confirmation process in 1994 when Clinton nominated him as to the federal bench. The Judiciary Committee found that Porteous had engaged "in a pattern of conduct that is incompatible with the trust placed in him as a federal judge."
The matter will go to the Senate for a trial, which will be conducted by a 12-member committee that will recommend whether to remove Porteous from office. It would take a two-thirds Senate vote—67 senators voting to convict—to permanently remove Porteous from the bench. In an editorial, New Orleans’s largest newspaper says the sooner the Senate can conduct a trial to rid us of this crooked judge the better.
Only one federal judge has been stripped of his lifetime appointment in the last decade. That Texas judge, Samuel Kent (appointed to the bench by George H.W. Bush in 1990), is serving a three-year prison sentence for obstructing an investigation into charges that he sexually assaulted two female employees.
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