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Senate convicts US judge on impeachment charges

world Updated: Dec 09, 2010 08:02 IST

AP
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The Senate on Wednesday convicted a US district judge from Louisiana on four articles of impeachment, making him just the eighth federal judge in history to be removed by Congress.

They also approved a motion barring US district judge G Thomas Porteous from holding future federal office.

House prosecutors laid out a damaging case against Porteous, a New Orleans native who was a state judge before winning appointment to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The prosecutors said gambling and drinking problems led him to begin accepting cash and other favors from attorneys and bail bondsmen with business before his court.

He also was accused of lying to Congress during his judicial confirmation and filing for bankruptcy under a false name. Porteous, who sat before senators in the well of the chamber as they voted separately on Wednesday on each count, issued a statement after the vote saying he disagreed but "must now accept that judgment."

The Senate voted unanimously to convict on the first article involving cash from attorneys, and with strong majorities on the other three.

Many of the facts in the case weren't disputed. Porteous' lead attorney, Jonathan Turley, acknowledged that the judge made mistakes but argued that they were mostly personal failings that didn't meet the "high crimes and misdemeanor" standard for impeachment. Turley also argued that many of the practices - such as accepting favors and expensive meals - were common in the Louisiana legal community. But House prosecutors said the evidence showed a decades-long pattern of corruption. They told senators that allowing Porteous to remain on the bench would erode public confidence in the courts and make a mockery of the federal judiciary.

In earlier hearings, two attorneys who once worked with Porteous had testified that they gave him thousands of dollars in cash, including about $2,000 stuffed in an envelope in 1999, just before Porteous decided a major civil case in their client's favor. They also said they paid for meals, trips and part of a bachelor party for one of Porteous' sons in Las Vegas, including a lap dance at a strip club.

Another witness, New Orleans bail bondsman Louis Marcotte, described a long-standing relationship in which Marcotte and his employees routinely took Porteous to lavish meals at French Quarter restaurants, repaired his automobiles, washed and filled his cars with gas, and took him on trips. In return, Porteous manipulated bond amounts for defendants to give Marcotte the highest fees possible, said Marcotte, who served 18 months in prison on related corruption charges.

Porteous is the first judge to be impeached and convicted since 1989, when two judges - Walter Nixon of Mississippi and Alcee L Hastings of Florida - were removed from office. Hastings went on to win a seat in Congress, where he still serves.

The case was the first impeachment trial since the 1999 proceedings against President Clinton, who was acquitted.