More than two years into an impeachment fight, a lawyer for U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. made one last appeal today for the Senate not to remove his client from the bench.
Porteous' lawyer Jonathan Turley delivered his closing argument to a distracted chamber. About half of the senators were in attendance, as some of them took time out to appear on television to discuss the tax package announced by President Barack Obama late Monday. At one point, 41 senators were visible in the chamber, despite pleading earlier by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for senators to be there in person.
Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, strongly denounced the attempt to remove Porteous. “All impeachments speak to all judges. This case presents articles of impeachment that are novel and that are dangerous,” he said, speaking from the well of the Senate.
The House of Representatives unanimously adopted four articles of impeachment against Porteous in March. The articles accuse Porteous of a long-standing pattern of corruption, dating to his time as a Louisiana state judge. They also say he lied during his personal bankruptcy beginning in 2001 and that he hid a history of corruption from the Senate during his 1994 confirmation proceedings.
Turley has repeatedly said the Senate should not consider alleged misconduct that occurred before Porteous joined the federal bench. He also noted that the Judicial Council of the 5th Circuit has already punished the judge with a reprimand, and that the judge plans to retire soon anyway. He urged the senators not to rely on an “arbitrary gut check.”
“There’s no question you can adopt any standard,” Turley said, referring to Congress’ broad authority to impeach and remove federal officials. “The question is whether you should.”
The House’s impeachment managers urged Porteous’ removal, as they laid out for senators the results of multiple criminal and ethical inquiries. They said Porteous engaged in a long-standing kickback scheme with his former law partners, in which as a state judge he would guide work to them in exchange for cash. They described relationships with bail bondsmen in which they said Porteous got meals, alcohol, gambling trips and other gifts in exchange for favorable treatment.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of the managers, said Porteous was trying to draw out the case to avoid losing his retirement benefits. “The judge is a gambler, and he is betting that he can beat the system just one more time,” Schiff said.
Senators are meetinig behind closed doors this evening to deliberate whether to remove Porteous from office, and both sides of lawyers looked for senators to champion their side.
Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, told senators that they should be sure to listen to the 12 senators who sat on a trial committee and heard a week’s worth of testimony in September. “They will be a tremendous resource,” he said.
Turley quoted the words of retiring Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who was vice chairman of an impeachment trial committee in the late 1980s when the Senate removed three judges. Specter urged the Senate at the time to be cautious in its use of the removal power, and he was in the chamber today to hear Turley quote his words.
Porteous would be the eighth federal judge ever removed from office if the Senate convicts him.