NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The U.S. Senate on Wednesday convicted U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous of Louisiana on four articles of impeachment, removed him from the bench, and effectively ended his $174,000 annual pension. In a separate vote, the Senate barred Porteous from holding any federal office.
Porteous is the eighth federal judge to be convicted by the Senate and removed from office through impeachment.
House prosecutors said gambling and a problem with drinking led Porteous to begin accepting cash and other favors from attorneys and bail bondsmen who appeared before his court. Porteous also was accused of filing for bankruptcy under an alias and lying to Congress during his judicial confirmation.
After the vote, Porteous issued a long statement, saying, “Today brought closure to the long controversy over my actions as a federal district judge.”
He added: “I am deeply saddened to be removed from office but I felt it was important not just to me but to the judiciary to take this fight to the Senate.” Porteous, who turns 64 next week, said, “While I still believe these allegations did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses as a constitutional matter, I understand how people of good faith could disagree.”
Porteous added, “I have previously apologized for the mistakes that I committed in this case. I never disputed many of the underlying facts and I previously accepted punishment in the 5th Circuit. While I disagree with the decision of the Senate, I must now accept that judgment.”
Porteous is a New Orleans native and was a state judge until 1994, when he was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton.
Many of the facts involved in Porteous’ case were undisputed. While House prosecutors said the evidence against Porteous showed a pattern of corruption that spanned decades. They said that allowing Porteous to remain on the bench would make a mockery of the federal judiciary.
Porteous’ lead attorney, Jonathan Turley, said that many of Porteous’ practices that raised eyebrows, such as accepting favors and expensive meals, are common in the Louisiana legal community. Turley argued that rather than “high crimes and misdemeanors,” Porteous’ mistakes were simply personal failings.
Porteous’ attorneys argued that Porteous’ alleged crimes occurred while he was still a state judge and that to convict him on crimes of “pre-federal” conduct would set a dangerous precedent.
The four articles of impeachment were for accepting large sums of cash from attorneys, manipulating bond amounts in order to get the highest fees possible, filing a fraudulent bankruptcy and lying to Congress during his judicial confirmation.
The Senate voted unanimously to convict Porteous on the first article, involving cash from attorneys, and voted with strong majorities on the other three.
Impeachment and conviction mean Porteous will lose his job and pension, but his conviction comes with no other penalty, fine or imprisonment.
Porteous is the first judge to be impeached and convicted since two judges, Walter Nixon of Mississippi, and Alcee L. Hastings of Florida, were removed from office. Hastings later was elected Congress, where he still serves.
In 2009, a U.S. District Judge from Galveston, Texas, Samuel B. Kent, would have faced four articles of impeachment by the House for sexual battery, but in response to the threat of impeachment, Kent resigned. Kent is serving a 33-month prison sentence for federal sex crimes.