Senate ousts La. judge on impeachment charges

Porteous is 8th to be removed in US history

G. Thomas Porteous (left) exited the Senate yesterday after he was convicted on impeachment charges including corruption. G. Thomas Porteous (left) exited the Senate yesterday after he was convicted on impeachment charges including corruption. (Alex Brandon/ Associated Press)
By Ben Evans
Associated Press / December 9, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Senate convicted US District Judge G. Thomas Porteous of Louisiana yesterday on four articles of impeachment, making him just the eighth federal judge in history to be removed by Congress.

They also approved a motion barring him from holding future federal office.

Porteous, who sat before senators in the well of the chamber as they voted separately on each count, issued a statement after the vote saying he disagreed but must now accept that judgment.

“I am deeply saddened to be removed from office, but I felt it was important not just to me but to the judiciary to take this fight to the Senate,’’ said Porteous, who turns 64 next week. “While I still believe these allegations did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses as a constitutional matter, I understand how people of good faith could disagree.’’

House prosecutors laid out a damaging case against Porteous, a New Orleans native who was a state judge before winning appointment to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1994. The prosecutors said gambling and drinking problems led him to begin accepting cash and other favors from attorneys and bail bondsmen with business before his court.

He also was accused of lying to Congress during his judicial confirmation and filing for bankruptcy under a false name.

The Senate voted unanimously to convict on the first article involving cash from attorneys, and it voted with strong majorities on the other three.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who managed the case, said the bipartisan process worked as intended and should be reassuring to every American.’’

“There are times this place is pretty dysfunctional,’’ she said, “but . . . I think the responsibility was handled just as the founders would have wanted us to handle it.’’

Many of the facts in the case were not disputed. Jonathan Turley, Porteous’s lead attorney, acknowledged that the judge made mistakes but argued that they were mostly personal failings that did not meet the high crimes and misdemeanor standard for impeachment. Turley also argued that many of the practices — such as accepting favors and expensive meals — were common in the Louisiana legal community.

But House prosecutors said the evidence showed a decades-long pattern of corruption. They told senators that allowing Porteous to remain on the bench would erode public confidence in the courts and make a mockery of the federal judiciary.

After months of hearings, the Senate closed the chamber for more than two hours Tuesday night to deliberate on his fate. The Senate made its decision yesterday in a solemn ceremonial vote in which senators sat at their desks and rose when called, saying guilty or not guilty.

Porteous offered little reaction as the decision became clear, mostly looking down at papers before him as an attorney kept a tally of the votes.

In earlier hearings, two attorneys who once worked with Porteous had testified that they gave him thousands of dollars in cash, including about $2,000 stuffed in an envelope in 1999, just before Porteous decided a major civil case in their client’s favor. They also said they paid for meals, trips, and part of a bachelor party for one of Porteous’ sons in Las Vegas, including a lap dance at a strip club.

Another witness, Louis Marcotte, New Orleans bail bondsman, described a long-standing relationship in which Marcotte and his employees routinely took Porteous to lavish meals at French Quarter restaurants, repaired his automobiles, washed and filled his cars with gas, and took him on trips. In return, Porteous manipulated bond amounts for defendants to give Marcotte the highest fees possible, said Marcotte, who served 18 months in prison on related corruption charges.

The impeachment article involving the bondsman narrowly won the two-thirds majority required for conviction, with 27 senators voting not guilty. Porteous’ attorneys argued during trial that the alleged misdeeds occurred when he was a state judge and that Congress would be setting a dangerous precedent by convicting him on pre-federal conduct.