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High Crimes, Shrimp and Vodka: The Senate Trial of Judge Thomas Porteous

Posted in Courts and Judiciary

Very balanced pre-trial coverage and background of the U.S. Senate trial of Federal Judge Thomas Porteous can be found on Newsy.com, courtesy of a reader.

As reported at NOLA.com, during Judge Porteous’ trial last week, the 12 member Senate committee heard testimony regarding allegations that a bonding company, Bail Bonds Unlimited, provided free vehicle repairs, buckets of shrimp and bottles of vodka to Judge Porteous while he was a State judge in Jefferson Parish Louisiana. Judge Porteous is alleged to have performed favors for the bonding company in return. Members of the House of Representatives serving as prosecutors also presented evidence that Judge Porteous allegedly omitted assets and gambling debts from bankruptcy filings, and used the false name "G.T. Ortous" in the filing.

There was also testimony that Judge Porteous asked Jefferson Parish attorney Jacob Amato in 1999 to help defray part of the cost of Judge Porteous’ son’s wedding at the same time that Judge Porteous was presiding over a multi-million dollar legal dispute between Lifemark Hospitals and Liljeberg Enterprises, in which Amato represented Liljeberg. Amato was alleged to have put $2,000 in an envelope for Judge Porteous’ secretary.

Judge Porteous’ attorneys argued that the bankruptcy false name was intended to prevent embarrassing publicity, and presented expert testimony that the omissions from the filings were not unusual. They also presented a Loyola University Law School Professor, who testified that, until last year, Louisiana’s rules on gifts and meals for judges were fairly vague, and that State judges regularly received lunches and holiday gifts from lawyers practicing before them. Evidence was also presented that Lifemark retained attorney Donald Gardner in its dispute with Liljeberg for $100,000 solely based on Gardner’s familiarity with the Judge. Gardner kicked back $30,000 of the fee to the attorney who recruited him. Judge Porteous’ counsel argued to the committee that the allegations against Judge Porteous are not the sort of conduct which the Founding Fathers intended impeachment for–treason and high crimes and misdemeanors. Counsel emphasized that Judge Porteous was never charged with any crime relating to the alleged conduct, and that most of the conduct occurred before he was appointed to the Federal Bench.

The committee consists of six Democrats and six Republicans. The full Senate will determine whether Judge Porteous will be impeached during its lame duck session in November. If the Senate votes in favor of impeachment, Judge Porteous will become the eighth Federal judge to be removed from office in U.S. history.