WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Senate on Wednesday convicted U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous of Louisiana on four articles of impeachment, making him just the eighth federal judge in history to be removed by Congress.
Mr. Porteous, who sat before senators in the well of the chamber as they voted separately on each count, declined to comment as he left the chamber. Daniel Schwartz, one of Mr. Porteous‘ lawyers, said, “We’re obviously disappointed with the result.”
House prosecutors laid out a damaging case against Mr. Porteous, 63, a New Orleans native who was a state judge before winning appointment to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The prosecutors said gambling and drinking problems led him to begin accepting cash and other favors from lawyers 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 one count and with a strong majority for each of the other three.
Mr. Porteous‘ lead attorney, Jonathan Turley, acknowledged much of the behavior, saying the judge made mistakes but arguing that they were mostly personal failings that didn’t meet the “high crimes and misdemeanor” standard for impeachment. Mr. 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 Mr. Porteous to remain on the bench would erode public confidence in the courts and make a mockery of the federal judiciary.
The Senate closed the chamber for more than two hours Tuesday night to deliberate his fate. The Senate made its decision Wednesday in a solemn ceremonial vote in which senators sat at their desks and rose when called, saying “guilty” or “not guilty.”
Mr. Porteous offered little reaction as the decision became clear, mostly looking down at papers before him where an attorney kept a tally of the votes.
In earlier hearings, two attorneys who once worked with Mr. Porteous testified that they gave him thousands of dollars in cash, including about $2,000 stuffed in an envelope in 1999, just before Mr. 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 Mr. Porteous‘ sons in Las Vegas, including a lap dance at a strip club.
Another witness, New Orleans bail bondsman Louis Marcotte, described a long-standing relationship in which Mr. Marcotte and his employees routinely took Mr. 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, Mr. Porteous manipulated bond amounts for defendants to give Mr. Marcotte the highest fees possible, said Mr. Marcotte, who served 18 months in prison on related corruption charges.
Mr. Porteous was caught up in a 1999 FBI investigation that found widespread corruption in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish. The sting netted more than a dozen convictions, but Mr. Porteous never was charged with a crime, in part, authorities said, because of statutes of limitation.
The Justice Department referred a misconduct complaint to the courts. Mr. Porteous was suspended from the bench, and the Judicial Conference of the United States recommended that Congress consider impeachment.
Mr. Porteous is the first judge to be impeached and convicted since 1989, when two judges — Walter Nixon of Mississippi and Alcee L. Hastings of Florida — were removed from office. Mr. Hastings went on to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he still serves.