A U.S. appeals court in Atlanta ruled yesterday that Miami U.S. District Court Judge Alcee L. Hastings can be prosecuted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice in connection with an alleged bribery scheme involving a prominent Washington lawyer.

Hastings, a federal judge for the Southern District of Florida, was indicted last year along with his friend William A. Borders, a well-known Washington lawyer and former president of the National Bar Association.

Borders was convicted on bribery charges in the case earlier this year and is appealing.

Hastings had argued that as a sitting federal judge he could not be prosecuted unless he resigned or was removed from the bench through the impeachment process.

The appeals court ruled that Hastings' argument "would be outweighed by the tremendous harm that the rule would cause to another treasured value of our constitutional system: no man in this country is so high that he is above the law."

Hastings' attorneys have said they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Borders was convicted of conspiring to commit bribery, obstruction of justice and of two counts of interstate travel to commit bribery.

Prosecutors said Borders solicited a $150,000 bribe from a federal undercover agent in return for a promise to have Hastings return the forfeited assets of two convicted racketeers and reduce their three-year jail sentences.

At Borders' trial, the FBI undercover agent said he paid Borders $25,000 as the first installment of the alleged bribe money. In exchange for the payoff, the prosecution charged, Hastings ordered the assets -- totaling $845,000 -- returned to the racketeers, and planned to reduce the sentences he had imposed on them.