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Legal Ethics

5th Circuit Reprimands Judge Porteous, Clears Cases from his Docket

Posted Sep 12, 2008 11:01 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous has been reprimanded in an order by an appellate judicial council that says he committed perjury and took money from lawyer friends whose cases were before him.

In one case lawyers appearing before Porteous accompanied the judge to Las Vegas for his son's bachelor party and financed the judge's trip, according to a report of the Judicial Council of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, summarized in a story by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Porteous' own lawyer has acknowledged his client suffers from a gambling addiction compounded by alcoholism, and much of the alleged wrongdoing outlined by the council appears to be related to those problems. Porteous says he has not gambled in two years and is beginning to get his life back in order, the National Law Journal reports.

The report comes as a move for Porteous’ impeachment languishes in a congressional committee.

An order by the judicial council released yesterday bars Porteous from hearing new cases for two years or until he is impeached, and bans him from hiring court staffers for that period. The council said it was taking the maximum disciplinary steps allowed by law and any further action to remove the judge from office is the responsibility of Congress.

The council said Porteous committed perjury by filing financial disclosure forms that concealed cash and other things of value he solicited and received from lawyers appearing before him. It also said he perjured himself by signing false statements in his personal bankruptcy that hid gambling and other debts from the court, allowing him "to obtain a discharge of his debts while continuing his lifestyle at the expense of his creditors.”

Hiding gifts from lawyers made it impossible for litigants to seek his recusal, the council said. In one bench trial the litigants did ask Porteous to step aside because of his relationship with the lawyers but he refused, violating criminal statutes and ethics canons, the council concluded.

The council released its "scathing report” detailing the judge’s alleged wrongdoing along with hundreds of pages of previously secret documents of the investigation of the judge, the Times-Picayune story says. Links to the documents are included in the council’s order and reprimand (PDF).

The judge twice offered to step down from the bench in return for full retirement benefits, the story says, citing the report. The first time Chief Judge Edith Jones refused, and the second time Porteous withdrew his offer.

Porteous' docket has already been cleared, yet he continues to collect a salary of nearly $170,000.

Porteous' lawyer, Lewis Unglesby, told the Times-Picayune the 5th Circuit report was “preposterous."

"It doesn't have anything to do with reality,” he said. Any mistakes made by the judge, he has contended, are not serious enough for impeachment. "I defy you to find me a case where any lawyer who had a case with Tom Porteous … said, 'I wasn't treated fairly,’ ” Unglesby told the Times-Picayune.

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