The congressmen and lawyers who led the impeachment drive against a New Orleans federal judge left out key details before the U.S. House of Representatives voted in March to impeach him, the judge's lawyer said today.
Jonathan Turley, who is representing U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr., told members of a special U.S. Senate committee that they would hear the full story this week. The committee today began its impeachment trial for Porteous, to be followed by a Senate vote that could make Porteous the first federal judge removed from the bench since 1989.
Porteous (pictured above) is accused of an array of wrongdoing, including participating in a kickback scheme with his former law partners and taking gifts from bail bondsmen when he was a state judge.
Turley, a George Washington University law professor, said one of the four articles of impeachment against his client refers to a conversation that, based on a timeline of events, could not have occurred when House members say it did — a potential error that Turley said would be a “first” in two centuries of congressional impeachments.
Article IV says that bail bondsman Louis Marcotte lied to the FBI in 1994, when the FBI was vetting Porteous for the federal bench, by not disclosing meals and other gifts he had given Porteous. Article IV also says that Porteous knew about Marcotte’s lying and that Porteous failed to disclose his knowledge when required to by the Senate.
But Turley told senators that the FBI’s interview with Marcotte occurred relatively late in the confirmation process, after Porteous had finished filling out Senate forms. The accusation that Porteous misled the Senate, Turley said, “couldn’t have happened in this case the way the article stated.”
The House impeachment managers, who gave their opening statements first this morning, did not immediately have an opportunity to respond to the possible error. But they said there is no possible defense for Porteous’ actions, and they reiterated the accusations that Porteous had corrupt relationships with others in Louisiana courthouses.
“The real argument is, he did nothing wrong. And on this the House cannot disagree more,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of the impeachment managers. Schiff said litigants that might appear in court before Porteous can have no confidence that they will be heard fairly.
Porteous was investigated by a federal grand jury as part of a wider corruption probe in Louisiana, but no charges ever resulted. He also had different lawyers when the House adopted the four articles of impeachment in March, and Turley said today that House impeachment managers and lawyers have largely gone unchallenged.
Turley said that it is common practice for lawyers and judges to have lunch together, especially in small jurisdictions, and that the House managers have exaggerated the value of the meals Porteous accepted. He also said that the House managers took errors in Porteous’ 2001 personal bankruptcy out of context.
“The record in this case continues to change — not by the week, not by the day, but by the hour,” Turley said, saying he and his colleagues received new evidence Sunday night from the U.S. Department of Justice. He didn’t describe the new evidence but, he said, “I would submit to you that impeachment trials should not be works in progress.”
National Law Journal photos by Diego M. Radzinschi.