U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous of Louisiana, already faced with a recommendation for impeachment and suspended from the bench since the spring, got more bad news Thursday from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The circuit's Judicial Council ordered all his cases removed for two years, or until Congress acts on the impeachment request, removed Porteous' staff and issued a public reprimand, along with hundreds of pages of previously secret documents in the investigation.
The judicial complaint against Porteous alleges he "solicited and received" cash from lawyers with cases pending before him, lied on financial disclosure documents and committed perjury by signing false statements in his personal bankruptcy case. In re Complaint for Judicial Misconduct against U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr., 07-05-351-0085.
He was not been charged with any criminal conduct by the Justice Department.
Chief Judge Edith Jones released hundreds of pages of previously secret documents that include Porteous' own response to the allegations, a 49-page dissent by four circuit judges who opposed the impeachment recommendation in April and an account of psychiatric and medical evaluations showing Porteous was severely depressed after the loss of his home in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the death of his wife a year later.
Porteous' attorney, Lewis Unglesby, of Baton Rouge's Unglesby & Marionneaux, called Thursday's action, "pure meanness. There is no good reason to do that now. He is already suspended and facing impeachment."
Unglesby said that he filed an affidavit with the Judicial Conference of the U.S. that accused Jones of interfering in the case by calling Justice Department prosecutors and pressing them to know when Porteous would be indicted.
"Why is the chief judge calling on a grand jury matter?" he said. "From the legal perspective, normal people don't get to call and ask those questions, nor do they get anyone to answer their calls. I've never heard of this before and it scares the heck out of me," Unglesby said.
Jones could not be reached at her chambers office Thursday, but has declined to comment on judicial discipline cases in the past.
The 5th Circuit recommended an impeachment action be brought in an April letter to the Judicial Conference of the U.S., the policymaking body of the judiciary. The Conference agreed and passed its own recommendation on to Congress June 23.
In a dissent from the 5th Circuit action, four judges wrote, "A careful and judicious analysis of the evidence in the present case fails to demonstrate that Judge Porteous committed possible treason, bribery, or a high crime or misdemeanor." Those are the only grounds for considering impeachment, they said.
Unglesby said he learned Thursday that Congress would not take up the impeachment question until 2009.
He called the latest reprimand "either wonderful because it negates the whole impeachment because he has now been punished, or it is demonstrative of some kind of personal animosity for reasons we don't understand."
If Porteous is ultimately impeached by Congress, "he would be the only judge in the history of the Republic to be recommended for impeachment, but never indicted criminally."
In his own defense, Porteous responded to the 5th Circuit's investigation saying in December 2007 that he has a genetic pre-disposition to depression, shown by his father's suicide. That he has been dependent on alcohol and worsened his financial problems by gambling.
He said he has not gambled in two years and is beginning to get his life "back in order."
Unglesby accused the 5th Circuit of "over punishing" Porteous because it is "embarrassed" by the light punishment of U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent, in Houston. Kent was suspended four months after a former clerk complained he fondled her and made inappropriate sexual comments. Kent was indicted on Aug. 28 on three criminal counts of sexual abuse of a female employee.