By Jeff Jeffrey
With disgraced Louisiana federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous looking on, New Orleans attorney Robert Creely testified at a hearing in front of a House special impeachment task force today that he and his law partner Jacob Amato had given Porteous over $20,000 in cash and other gifts over the years, including while the judge was on the federal bench.
But Creely said the gifts were given out of a desire to help a dear friend who was having financial troubles, not with the expectation that his clients would receive favorable rulings in return.
Today's hearing marked the first day of testimony in House Judiciary Committee proceedings designed to determine whether the House will file impeachment proceedings against Porteous. Porteous has been accused of soliciting and receiving cash from lawyers appearing in front of him. He has also been accused of using his powers as a judge to help bail bondsmen businesses in exchange for payment, and of committing perjury in his personal bankruptcy case.
In his testimony, Creely outlined his role in a long-running scheme in which he and Amato gave Porteous cash while at the same time receiving curatorships from the judge. A curatorship is a state court-ordered arrangement in which a lawyer is appointed to represent an absentee defendant. That job pays about $200 per curatorship.
Creely testified that Porteous started assigning curatorships to his firm, Creely & Amato, after he complained to Porteous that the regular requests for money were becoming a burden.
"I didn't want these curatorships," Creely told lawmakers. "They were a real pain in the neck. But I wanted to help a friend in need. I probably would have continued to give him money even if he stopped sending us curatorships."
In his opening presentation, Alan Baron, a Seyfarth Shaw partner who is serving as special impeachment counsel, said that Porteous had run up over $150,000 in gambling debt by 2000 and had devised several schemes to raise money to pay down those debts. Creely said at first, he and Amato saw no connection between the hundreds of curatorships being sent his way and the cash gifts he and Amato gave to Porteous. But over time, they realized that the curatorships were being used as a way to give the firm a pool of money from which to pay Porteous.
Creely said he and Amato started giving Porteous cash gifts in the 1980s and continued throughout his time on the state bench. He said Porteous was given other gifts that included at least three hunting and fishing trips over the years, regular meals, and a portion of a bachelor party Porteous threw for his son in Las Vegas.
Creely said he and Amato made at least one payment to Porteous while he was a federal judge in the form of an envelope that included $2,000 in cash. That payment was made just before he ruled in their favor on a complex civil case that could have earned their firm between $500,000 and $1 million on contingency.
Creely said he had no involvement in that case, but he acknowledged that Amato, who will testify this afternoon, did work on it. (The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit later overturned Porteous' ruling, saying some of his findings bordered on absurd and came close to being nonsensical.)
"There was nothing wrong with the gifts," Creely said. "By my understanding, the law says gifts are fine as long as there is no expectation that I will get anything in return."
"In the 20 years Judge Porteous has been on the bench, I have only appeared in front of him three times, and he ruled against me in two of those cases," Creely said. "I never got anything in return. I always felt that the judge was going to do what he was going to do."
Porteous was in the audience throughout Creely's testimony, but his lawyer, Richard Westling of Ober Kaler's Washington office, said he will not be testifying.
Since Sept. 10, 2008, Porteous has been serving a suspension that runs either two years or until Congress takes final action on the impeachment proceedings. He is still receiving his full salary.