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Impeaching Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SCHIFF. I thank the gentleman, and want to commend the leadership of Chairman Conyers in bringing this matter to conclusion here on the House floor and for all your leadership on the committee, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Speaker, today we again find ourselves in the regrettable circumstance where we must act to remove a Federal judge from the bench.

The task before us is not one that we would welcome, however it is an important responsibility entrusted to us by the Founders and one that we cannot shrink from.

Unlike elected officials who may be removed periodically by the voters or serve a term that comes to an end, the Founding Fathers provided only one extraordinary method of removing a Federal judge, that of impeachment, which has only been used 14 times in our Nation's history. Regrettably, the matter before us today warrants its use once again.

The House of Representatives directed the House Judiciary Committee Task Force on Judicial Impeachment to inquire into whether Judge Porteous of the Eastern District of Louisiana should be impeached. As Chair of the task force, I would like to report on our work and provide the Members of the House with a procedural history of the matter, as well as an overview of the relevant facts.

I want to thank each of the members of the task force that worked on the matter, and in particular the ranking member, Bob Goodlatte, for his extraordinary work. Together we have tried to ensure that we proceed in a fair, open, and deliberate manner, and this has been done in a bipartisan, really nonpartisan, basis.

G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., was appointed to the Federal bench in 1994 and has served in the New Orleans Courthouse in the Eastern District of Louisiana. After a multiyear FBI and Federal grand jury investigation, the Department of Justice in May 2007 submitted a complaint referring allegations of judicial misconduct.

The complaint noted that the department had determined not to seek criminal charges for reasons including the statute of limitations and other factors impacting prosecution, but the complaint stated that the investigation uncovered evidence of pervasive misconduct and evidence that Judge Porteous may have violated Federal and State criminal laws controlling canons of judicial conduct, rules of professional responsibility, and conducted himself in a manner antithetical to the constitutional standard of good behavior required of all Federal judges.

After an extensive disciplinary proceeding in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, at which Judge Porteous, representing himself, made statements, cross-examined witnesses, and called witnesses on his own behalf, the Judicial Conference of the United States voted unanimously to refer this matter to the House of Representatives based on substantial evidence of conduct that individually and collectively brought disrepute to the Federal judiciary. The Fifth Circuit also moved to take the maximum disciplinary action allowed by law against Judge Porteous, suspending him for 2 years or until Congress takes final action on the impeachment proceedings.

As a part our initial investigation, Impeachment Task Force staff interviewed over 65 individuals, deposed about 25 witnesses under oath, obtained documents from various sources, including from witnesses, the 24th Judicial Court in Jefferson Parish, and the Department of Justice.

After the initial investigatory phase, the task force held four separate evidentiary hearings over 5 days in November and December of 2009 in order to determine whether Judge Porteous' conduct provides a sufficient basis for impeachment and to develop a record upon which to recommend whether to adopt articles of impeachment.

Our first hearing focused on allegations of misconduct in relation to Judge Porteous presiding over the case In re: Liljeberg Enterprises, Inc. The record reflects that Judge Porteous was engaged in a corrupt kickback scheme with the law firm of Amato & Creely, that he failed to disclose his relationship with the firm, and that he denied a motion to recuse himself from the case, despite the firm's representation of one of the parties. The kickback scheme involved appointing Mr. Creely as a curator in hundreds of cases, with fees amounting to approximately $40,000 paid to the Amato & Creely firm, approximately half of which was then paid back to Judge Porteous. Judge Porteous made intentionally misleading statements at the recusal hearing intended to minimize the extent of his personal relationship with the firm.

The record also reflects that Judge Porteous engaged in corrupt conduct after the bench trial and while the case was under advisement by soliciting and accepting things of values from attorneys at the firm, including $2,000 in cash. This corrupt relationship and his conduct as a Federal judge have brought his court into scandal and disrepute and demonstrates that he is unfit for office. Our investigation also uncovered evidence that his solicitation and acceptance of things from Creely & Amato were not isolated events limited to two attorneys, but a pattern of using his perch on the Federal bench to extract and to receive things of value from attorneys and parties in front of him.

Our second hearing focused on allegations that Judge Porteous repeatedly made false and misleading statements, including the concealment of debts, under oath and in disregard of a bankruptcy court's orders. The record reflects that as a Federal judge he knowingly and intentionally made material false statements and representations under penalty of perjury and repeatedly violated a court order in his case. This included using a false name and post office box to conceal his identity as a debtor in the case; concealing assets, preferential payments to certain creditors, and gambling losses and debts; as well as incurring new debts while the case was pending, all in violation of the court's order.

Our investigation also uncovered further evidence of his willful efforts to conceal his financial situation and the extent of his gambling over the years. Taken together, it is clear that his false statements and the bankruptcy proceedings were not the result of an oversight or mistake, but reflected instead an effort to conceal his financial affairs and his gambling.

Our third hearing focused on allegations that Judge Porteous engaged in a corrupt relationship with bail bondsman Louis Marcotte and his sister Lori. The record reflects that as part of this corrupt relationship, Judge Porteous solicited and received numerous things of value, including meals, trips, home and car repairs, for his personal use and benefit while at the same time taking official actions on behalf of the Marcottes. This included setting, reducing, and splitting bonds for the Marcottes while on the State bench, and improperly setting aside or expunging felony convictions for two Marcotte employees.

Judge Porteous used the power and prestige of his office to assist the Marcottes in forming relationships with other State judicial officers and others. Judge Porteous also knew and understood that Louis Marcotte made false statements to the FBI in an effort to assist his appointments to the Federal bench.

At our fourth and final hearing, we received testimony from a panel of constitutional scholars on whether Judge Porteous' conduct renders him unfit to hold office, and provided a sufficient basis for impeachment. The record reflects that Judge Porteous knowingly made false material statements about his past to both the U.S. Senate and the FBI in connection with his nomination to the Federal bench in order to conceal corrupt relationships.

In addition, Judge Porteous knew that another individual made false statements to the FBI in an effort to assist his appointment to the Federal bench. Judge Porteous' failure to disclose these corrupt relationships deprived the U.S. Senate and the public of the information that would have had a material impact on his confirmation. Our panel of experts testified that such behavior clearly constitutes impeachable conduct.

I'd like to note that the task force invited Judge Porteous to testify, but he declined our offer. In addition, the task force afforded the opportunity for Judge Porteous and his counsel to request that the task force hear from a witness or witnesses that they wish to call. Judge Porteous' counsel informed the task force that they did not wish to avail themselves of that opportunity. The task force permitted Judge Porteous' counsel to participate in our hearings on behalf of his client, and he was permitted to question the witnesses. This was an extraordinary prerogative that was granted to counsel.

Our proceeding today does not constitute a trial, as the constitutional power to try impeachment resides in the Senate. Rather, the House's role is to inquire whether Judge Porteous' conduct provides a sufficient basis for impeachment. According to leading commentators and historical precedent on this issue, there are two broad categories of conduct that have been recognized as justifying impeachment: serious abuse of power, and conduct that demonstrates that an official is ``unworthy to fill'' the office that he or she holds.

After concluding that the full record establishes that Judge Porteous should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, the Impeachment Task Force met in late January and unanimously voted in favor of recommending four Articles of Impeachment for consideration by the Judiciary Committee. On January 27, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of each article and to favorably report H. Res. 1031 to the full House. A 147-page report has been filed detailing the inquiry for Members of the House.

Mr. Speaker, Judge Porteous engaged in a pattern of conduct that is incompatible with the trust and confidence placed in him as a Federal judge. His longstanding pattern of corrupt conduct, so utterly lacking in honesty or integrity, demonstrates his unfitness to serve as a U.S. District Court judge. His material false statements about his past, made knowingly to both the U.S. Senate and to the FBI in order to obtain his Federal office, deprived the Senate and the public of information that would have had a material impact on his confirmation. Accordingly, I urge the House to approve the Articles of Impeachment included in House Resolution 1031.

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