On Thursday, a task force of the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of four articles of impeachment against a federal judge from Louisiana. How does the judge, G. Thomas Porteous Jr., plan to head off impeachment and removal from office by the Senate?
His lawyer, Richard Westling of the Washington office of Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver, is outlining a defense based on two major points: first, that much of what Porteous is accused of doing happened before he was on the federal bench, and second, that the U.S. Department of Justice chose not to prosecute Porteous for what he has done.
The debate will heat up in the next several weeks, as the House Judiciary Committee and then the House itself consider whether to adopt the four articles of impeachment. Lawmakers from both political parties say Porteous is unfit to serve. Click here (PDF) to read the articles.
The second and fourth articles relate directly to Porteous’ conduct as a state judge, a position he held until his Senate confirmation as a U.S. district judge in 1994. The second accuses him of a “longstanding pattern of corrupt conduct that demonstrates his unfitness to serve” — highlighting his acceptance of meals, trips and other gifts and favors from a bail bondsman. The fourth says he misled the Senate by not revealing that activity during the 1994 confirmation process.
Westling, in a statement, said that articles of impeachment based on conduct before becoming a federal judge run against “both the Constitution and more than two hundred years of precedent.”
The first article argues Porteous should have recused from a 1997 case because he had, while a state judge, accepted cash from a law firm involved in the case. And the third article says Porteous lied and acted unethically during his personal bankruptcy case from 2001 to 2004 by, among other things, concealing assets and using a false name.
Westling said the articles are based on “allegations that the Department of Justice found insufficient to justify a prosecution after more than five years of investigation.”
In a 2007 letter (PDF) to the chief judge of the 5th Circuit, the Justice Department described the same conduct and gave four reasons for not prosecuting: the statute of limitations, the materiality of the alleged false statements, the government’s twin burdens of proof and unanimity at trial, and the “availability of alternative remedies” such as impeachment.