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House weighs Impeachment

Posted by on Dec. 1, 2009 at 3:38 PM
  • 6 Replies

The House Judiciary Committee has begun rare impeachment proceedings against a federal judge, who is accused of soliciting money from lawyers who appeared before him.

Hearings into the matter involving Judge Thomas Porteous of New Orleans began last month and more are likely in coming weeks. If the House ultimately votes to impeach Judge Porteous, the Senate would hold a trial and vote on whether he should be removed from his position.

Associated Press

District Judge Thomas Porteous of New Orleans during a House meeting Nov. 18 to consider his impeachment.

The Justice Department conducted an extended investigation into the bribery allegations and ultimately decided not to indict Judge Porteous. However, a federal judicial panel in September 2008 suspended the Clinton appointee, saying that his failure to disclose personal gifts bought by the lawyers who had appeared before him had brought "disrepute to the federal judiciary."

The House started impeachment proceedings in an effort to remove him from the bench permanently.

An attorney for Judge Porteous said his client declined to comment.

Judicial-impeachment hearings are rare. Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University and an expert on judicial-misconduct issues, said that by his count Congress has inquired into the behavior of 78 judges over time. Of those, only 14 have faced articles of impeachment, and it has been 20 years since a federal judge was removed this way.

"The vetting process is thorough, and on the whole we've got a pretty good judiciary," Mr. Geyh said.

Some judges have stepped down rather than endure such public investigations. Earlier this year, the House adopted articles of impeachment against U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent of Texas, who is serving a 33-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to a charge stemming from allegations of sexual misconduct. But because he resigned, the impeachment process didn't go forward.

Still, the Porteous case underscores a common critique that federal judges, with their life tenure, often aren't held sufficiently accountable for misconduct. Typically, misconduct claims against federal judges are handled by the federal judiciary itself -- a self-policing format that can give rise to skepticism, said Arthur Hellman, a judicial ethics expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. But, he said, "the process does have teeth."

The allegations against Judge Porteous involve a close friend and former law partner, Robert Creely. As a state judge in the 1980s, Judge Porteous allegedly solicited cash payments from Mr. Creely, which the judge said was to cover urgent family expenses, according to a report by the Judicial Conference of the United States, a policy-making body for federal courts.

Mr. Creely didn't return a call seeking comment, but he testified before the House committee that he reluctantly gave the judge thousands of dollars when asked but that there was no quid pro quo. "The only reason I gave it to him was because he was a friend in need," Mr. Creely said.

[on trial]

The judge has admitted to problems with drinking and gambling, and according to a transcript of Mr. Creely's grand jury testimony, Mr. Creely said that at some point he began to worry that he was being asked to fund the judge's extravagant lifestyle. Mr. Creely also testified that he worried he could no longer afford the payments.

Mr. Porteous started appointing Mr. Creely's firm for court-appointed legal work. Mr. Creely testified that the judge would then ask for money from the firm, which gave it to him, according to a transcript from the House committee hearings.

Following his appointment to the federal bench in 1994, Judge Porteous allegedly continued to seek cash payments from Mr. Creely and others, according to congressional testimony. Some of the payments from Mr. Creely's law firm came at a time in which the judge was presiding over a contract dispute involving a client of the Creely firm, Liljeberg Enterprises Inc., according to the testimony.

Also, while the judge was deliberating on the outcome of the trial, Mr. Creely paid for the costs of Judge Porteous's son's bachelor party in Las Vegas, according to the judicial report.

At one point during that 1996 trial, the attorney for the opposing side asked the judge to recuse himself because of his close relationship with an attorney in Mr. Creeley's firm. Judge Porteous denied the request.

The judge later ruled largely in favor of Mr. Creely's client. The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the decision, calling it "clearly erroneous" and describing some of Judge Porteous's reasoning as "close to being nonsensical."

John Liljeberg, president and chairman of Liljeberg Enterprises, a Louisiana medical-care company, said in an interview: "I hate to see what is happening. The man made a decision, and we got screwed." The parties eventually settled.

Judge Porteous's attorney, Richard Westling, said the impeachment-hearing testimony showed there was no attempt to improperly influence the judge in the Liljeberg case. "The witnesses have clearly testified that the judge presided over a fair trial and did not favor either side in his handling of the matter," Mr. Westling said. "These allegations are not about gratuities or official acts, but involve lifelong friendships that had no relationship to my client's service as a federal judge."

Last year, some judges issued a reprimand of Mr. Porteous and ruled that no new cases should be assigned to the judge for two years or until Congress resolves the impeachment process, whichever occurs first. But some attorneys in New Orleans have called for leniency, saying Judge Porteous is a fundamentally decent and fair man, undone by some personal demons.

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by on Dec. 1, 2009 at 3:38 PM
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sweetie00
by on Dec. 1, 2009 at 4:37 PM

Some judges have stepped down rather than endure such public investigations.

WOW

stormcris
by Christy on Dec. 1, 2009 at 6:33 PM

Well I guess privacy is very important and it is better to save face than have dirty laundry aired.

Quoting sweetie00:

Some judges have stepped down rather than endure such public investigations.

WOW


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tericared
by on Dec. 1, 2009 at 6:48 PM

 federal judicial panel in September 2008 suspended the Clinton appointee, saying that his failure to disclose personal gifts bought by the lawyers who had appeared before him had brought "disrepute to the federal judiciary."

Why dont these guys get into trouble too?

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sweetie00
by on Dec. 1, 2009 at 6:57 PM


Quoting stormcris:

Well I guess privacy is very important and it is better to save face than have dirty laundry aired.

Quoting sweetie00:

Some judges have stepped down rather than endure such public investigations.

WOW


Like what?

stormcris
by Christy on Dec. 1, 2009 at 7:07 PM

For instance (using the Clinton investigation) we now know more than we ever wanted to know about the use of a cigar. That would not necessarily have been public knowledge if he had stepped down. Those sort of things would have come out if Judge Kent had faced the investigation, and perhaps rather than having the vast details of various affairs aired he stepped down.

Quoting sweetie00:


Quoting stormcris:

Well I guess privacy is very important and it is better to save face than have dirty laundry aired.

Quoting sweetie00:

Some judges have stepped down rather than endure such public investigations.

WOW


Like what?


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resamerie
by Platinum Member on Dec. 1, 2009 at 7:45 PM

They're cracking down on about 5 judges down here in N.O. right now. Judge Joan Benge (actually from right outside N.O.) just lost her appeal for a re-hearing in her case and is to be removed from the bench.  http://slabbed.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/breaking-news-la-supreme-court-denied-judge-benges-request-for-rehearing/

I swear this state has some of the most corrupt gov. officials than you could even imagine. One of La.'s ex-governors, Edwin Edwards who was elected in like 4 x is serving the rest of his life in prison as we speak. It's crazy.





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