When Louisiana lawyer Jacob Amato gave Judge G. Thomas Porteous an envelope filled with about $2,000 in cash, only "about 10 to 20 percent" of his motive was the fact the judge was presiding over Amato's high-dollar contingent-fee case. The other 80 to 90 percent, Amato said before a House special impeachment task force today, was his sympathy for a longtime friend in need.
Amato was the second person to testify today in the task force's investigation into whether the House should vote to impeach Porteous, an Eastern District of Louisiana judge accused of repeatedly soliciting and receiving cash from lawyers appearing in front of him. Porteous has also been accused of using his powers as a judge to help bail bondsmen in exchange for money and of committing perjury in his own bankruptcy case. He is currently serving a two-year suspension.
Amato said that, unlike his former law partner Robert Creely, who also testified today, he only remembers Porteous asking him directly for money one time—to help cover the cost of his son’s wedding.
Both Amato and Creely testified that they were trying to help out an old friend who needed money to cover his children’s tuition and other expenses. They said they had no idea that Porteous had run up more than $150,000 in gambling debts. All told, Amato said, they each gave Porteous about $10,000 in cash. Amato told lawmakers that the gifts were made in cash to “avoid making a paper record.”
While he was fully aware of what was going on, Amato said, Creely handled nearly all of Porteous’ requests for cash. He said the request for $2,000, which was made after Porteous was elevated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, was the only time he remembers the judge asking him for money.
“He came to me while we were on a fishing trip, and he was obviously upset,” Amato testified. “It was tough to see someone at the point of tears because he was trying to do something for his children, so I agreed to help him out.”
Not long before Porteous asked Amato for the money, he had denied a motion to recuse himself from a case in which Amato could have earned a contingent payment as high as $1 million. Porteous eventually found in favor of Amato’s client, but his decision was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The court found that some of his findings “bordered on absurd” and came “close to being nonsensical.” Amato said he didn’t think Porteous ruled in his client’s favor because of the thousands of dollars he and Creely had given to Porteous over the years. “I think the Court of Appeals was wrong. I still think that,” he said.
Nonetheless, Amato said, giving the judge money was “the biggest mistake of my career.” He could have put a stop to the payments but he “wasn’t strong enough.”
“I would have had to break up my law partnership and dissolve a friendship that I had had for 30 years, and I just wasn’t strong enough to do that,” Amato said.