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Impeachment trial of federal judge begins on Capitol Hill

September 13, 2010
  • U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous listens to testimony Monday during a Senate Impeachment Committee hearing to hear arguments and receive evidence in his impeachment trial.
Associated Press,

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal judge from Louisiana is corrupt and unfit to serve on the bench, House members said Monday as they began a rare congressional impeachment trial by laying out their case against the jurist.

Playing the role of prosecutors, Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., used their opening statements to a Senate impeachment panel to outline what they called a decades-long pattern of unethical behavior by New Orleans-area U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous. They said that included taking cash, expensive meals and gifts from lawyers and a bail bondsman, lying to Congress and filing for bankruptcy under a false name.

"It is the unanimous view of the House of Representatives that his conduct is not only wrong but so violative of the public trust that he cannot be allowed to remain on the bench without making a mockery of the court system," Schiff said.

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Porteous' attorney, Jonathan Turley, denied some allegations but acknowledged others such as accepting meals, which he said is perfectly legal. He said the judge's behavior, while perhaps reflecting poor judgment, doesn't meet the high crimes and misdemeanors standard set in the Constitution for impeachment.

"Judge Porteous has never been indicted, let alone convicted, of any crime," Turley said. "What the Congress has impeached this judge for is an appearance of impropriety."

Turley also said much of the conduct in question occurred when Porteous was a state judge and that Congress would be breaking from precedent by convicting him for behavior that occurred before he joined the federal bench.

The Senate trial is the first since the 1999 case against former President Bill Clinton. Porteous, who was appointed by Clinton in 1994, would be just the eighth judge to be impeached and convicted by Congress.

The House voted unanimously in March to impeach Porteous. A two-thirds vote is needed in the Senate to convict him.

Senators hearing the case appear ready to resolve it quickly, scheduling a series of all-day hearings this week and next.

Porteous' behavior was uncovered in a five-year FBI investigation in Jefferson Parish dubbed "Operation Wrinkled Robe." Although the sting netted convictions against more than a dozen others, Porteous was never charged with a crime. He was, however, suspended from the bench.

Turley said Porteous, 63, plans to retire next year regardless of what happens.

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