Impeachment trial for Judge G. Thomas Porteus begins in Senate

From staff and wire reports
Monday, September 13, 2010; 8:51 PM

A federal judge from Louisiana is corrupt and unfit to serve on the bench, House members charged Monday as they began the first Senate impeachment trial in more than a decade.

Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.) used their opening statements to outline for a Senate impeachment committee what they called a decades-long pattern of unethical behavior by U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. They said that behavior included taking cash, expensive meals and other 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.

Porteous's attorney, Jonathan Turley, denied some allegations but acknowledged others such as accepting meals, which he said is legal. He said the New Orleans-area judge's behavior, though perhaps reflecting poor judgment at times, 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 President Bill Clinton. Porteous, who was appointed by Clinton in 1994, would be just the eighth judge to be impeached and convicted by Congress, and the first in more than 20 years.

The House voted unanimously in March to bring charges. The 63-year-old judge faces four articles of impeachment, including allegations that he lied during background investigations related to his nomination to the federal bench.

A two-thirds vote is needed in the Senate to convict him.

Staff writer Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.

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