WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Monday opened an impeachment trial against U.S. District Judge Thomas G. Porteous Jr. of the Eastern District of Louisiana, who is accused of accepting bribes and engaging in a kickback scheme with a Louisiana law firm. It is the first Senate impeachment trial since former President Bill Clinton’s in 1999.
Porteous, 63, was nominated to serve as a federal judge in 1994 by Clinton. The House voted unanimously in March to impeach Porteous based on four articles of impeachment, which included allegations of accepting funds, meals and gifts from lawyers and a bail bondsman, and including false statements in bankruptcy filing materials.
Porteous is accused of striking up a kickback scheme with the law firm of Amato & Creely P.C. while serving as a state judge in which Porteous awarded the firm curatorships in exchange for half of the curatorship fees. Feds also say the judge accepted hundreds of meals from Jacob Amato without reciprocating.
Porteous also was accused of giving false and misleading statements during bankruptcy proceedings and lying during his federal judge nomination and confirmation process.
During the Senate trial, Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., are acting in the role of prosecutors for the House.
In his opening statement, Schiff warned that Porteous’ lawyers would say the case was “an appearance problem” and that Porteous was “being impeached for having lunch.”
He also said Porteous’ attorneys would point out that much of the alleged behavior took place before Porteous was appointed to the federal bench.
Schiff said it was not about when the acts took place, but rather when the public could have confidence in Porteous as a judge. “In this case, we believe the evidence will show that the public cannot have that confidence,” Schiff said.
Porteous’ attorney, George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley, argued that Porteous did not know he was doing anything wrong, saying it did not meet the “high crimes and misdemeanors” requirement for impeachment under the Constitution.
“These problems are routine,” Turley said of omissions on Porteous’ bankruptcy filings.
He said that Porteous should not be impeached “simply because everyone is dressed up for an impeachment,” saying he would expose the House decision as a “fully adversarial process.”
The 12-member Senate trial committee is headed up by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mont., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The trial is expected to continue through Thursday and possibly into next week. If convicted, the case will be turned over to the entire Senate, who can remove Porteous from the bench with a two-thirds vote.
If the Senate votes to remove Porteous, he will be the eighth federal judge to be impeached in U.S. history.