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House votes to impeach U.S. district judge from Louisiana

G. Thomas Porteous Jr.
G. Thomas Porteous Jr.
Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House voted unanimously Thursday to impeach a U.S. district judge from Louisiana, who lawmakers said avoided likely criminal charges related to alleged payoffs in part because the statute of limitations expired.

The House approved four impeachment articles charging him with taking payoffs and lying under oath. The unanimous vote reflected the bipartisan anger of the House over the judge's conduct.

The case goes to trial in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is needed to convict U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of the "high crimes and misdemeanors" standard set out in the Constitution.

Porteous was accused of taking cash from lawyers and gifts from a bail bondsman, lying to the Senate and the FBI to win confirmation and making false statements in his personal bankruptcy proceedings to hide financial problems and gambling debts.

If convicted in the Senate, Porteous would become the eighth federal judge in U.S. history to be impeached and convicted.

Porteous was nominated by President Bill Clinton.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said Porteous' misconduct was so serious that he's "one of a kind and it's time for him to receive his comeuppance."

The head of the House Judiciary Committee task force that held hearings on Porteous' conduct, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the Justice Department found the judge may have violated criminal laws but time ran out to file charges.

However, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suspended Porteous for two years, a punishment that ends in September. The expiration establishes an informal deadline for the Senate to finish a trial.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, called Porteous a "threat to the integrity of the federal bench" and added, "We will not let a few bad actors mar the reputation of others on the federal bench."

Richard Westling, the judge's attorney, said Porteous would seek "a full and fair hearing of all the evidence" in the Senate.

He disputed comments by Schiff and other lawmakers that the Justice Department did not bring criminal charges in part because the statute of limitations had expired.

"Not a single action taken by Judge Porteous while on the federal bench was beyond the statute of limitations," Westling said. "The decision not to prosecute was based purely on a lack of sufficient credible evidence."

Lawmakers made clear, however, that Porteous' conduct as a state judge also was relevant.

A Justice Department complaint in 2007 to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said, "Many of those incidents took place in the 1990s and would be precluded by the relevant statutes of limitations."

The impeachment articles state:

— As a federal judge Porteous refused to remove himself from a case, even though as a state judge, he had taken money from the law firm that represented the defendant.

— As a state and federal judge, Porteous accepted meals, trips, home repairs and car repairs from a bail bondsman and his sister. In return, while on the state bench, Porteous set and reduced bonds as requested by the couple and improperly set aside or expunged felony convictions for two of the bondsman's employees.

— The judge lied in his personal bankruptcy case by using a false name to conceal his identity as a debtor, his assets, his gambling losses, preferential payments to some creditors and new debts while the case was pending.

— Making false statements about his past to both the Senate and to the FBI in order to win confirmation as a federal judge. He falsely responded on a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that he did not know of any unfavorable information that would affect his nomination.