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SENATE VOTES TO IMPEACH U.S. JUDGE

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The Senate Friday approved impeachment charges against U.S. District Judge Alcee L. Hastings of Florida, automatically ousting him from the federal bench for conspiring to obtain a $150,000 payoff.

Sixty-nine senators voted guilty and 26 voted not guilty on the first article of 17 articles of impeachment. The Senate then proceeded on the 16 other charges.Hastings was the sixth federal official removed as a result of impeachment.

Flanked by his attorneys, the 53-year-old judge watched the proceedings from a table on the floor of the Senate as one by one the divided lawmakers answered the roll call.

Conviction came even though two senators who headed an evidence-hearing committee this summer said in advance of the roll call that they would vote to acquit Hastings on all charges.

"I conclude that in this case the evidence falls short," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a statement issued a few minutes before the vote.

The Senate acted after a seven-hour, closed-door session Thursday night that found it divided over the charges. It was clear when they broke up there was no unanimity.

He was accused of plotting with Washington attorney William Borders to obtain the payoff in return for reducing to probation three-year sentences imposed on two brothers who appeared as defendants in his court.

Unknown to Hastings and Borders, an FBI agent was negotiating the deal as part of a "sting" operation.