Lawyers for impeached U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. asked a special U.S. Senate committee today not to allow certain evidence in the judge's upcoming trial.
The argument came on the same day a federal judge in Washington declined to intervene in the Senate proceedings, and about a month before the Senate Impeachment Trial Committee is scheduled to begin its week-long trial of Porteous on four articles of impeachment.
In a pre-trial hearing, Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who is leading Porteous’ defense, asked the committee not to admit two sets of evidence: testimony that Porteous gave to a 5th Circuit investigative committee; and transcripts and records from prior proceedings before the 5th Circuit and the U.S. House or Representatives.
Turley said it would “shock the conscience” of the bar and of the Senate to consider Porteous’ testimony to the 5th Circuit. Porteous was granted immunity from criminal prosecution to testify before that committee, and although the impeachment trial is not a criminal process, Turley said that ignoring the grant of immunity would “cause great mischief” in the future whenever a judge testifies in an ethics proceeding.
House managers want to be able to use Porteous’ testimony, and they say the 5th Circuit’s grant of immunity cannot bind the Senate. “It may prove to be the most relevant evidence in this case,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), adding that Porteous admitted in the testimony to receiving cash payments from two lawyers who appeared before him.
In a third motion, Turley asked the senators to change how they plan to vote on the articles of impeachment. He said each of the four articles (PDF) is too broad, combining many allegations: for example, that Porteous “engaged in a pattern of conduct that is incompatible with the trust and confidence placed in him.” Turley said that senators should vote on specific acts of wrongdoing that Porteous is accused of, in part so that other federal judges know what conduct is impeachable.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) opposed that idea. “All the precedent says that the House has the authority to set the charges,” he said.
The 12-member Senate Impeachment Trial Committee is meeting in closed session this afternoon to consider the pre-trial motions. It is expected to rule on them in the next day.