Legal Ethics

Testimony: Fed'l Judge Owed $150K on Credit Cards, Got $20K from 2 Lawyers

A federal judge in Louisiana racked up $150,000 in credit card debt, largely to cover his gambling, as he routinely solicited cash and gifts from lawyers appearing before him, witnesses told a House Judiciary Committee task force today in an initial step toward possible impeachment of the jurist.

But one attorney, after testifying that he and his law partner gave U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. approximately $20,000 over a 10-year period beginning in the 1980s, said they got nothing in return, reports the Associated Press.

“The only reason I gave it to him was because he was a friend in need,” says attorney Robert Creely. “I got nothing back.”

Creely also said that he had appeared in front of Porteous in three cases over 20 years, losing two of them, reports the Blog of Legal Times.

The two attorneys gave Porteous $2,000 in an envelope shortly before he decided a major civil case in their favor, bringing in between $500,000 and $1 million in legal fees for their firm, the AP reports.

The judge also routed court-appointed work their way, the news agency says.

Porteous, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, has been suspended for two years, or until the conclusion of impeachment proceedings. He attended the hearing today but apparently did not testify.

The opening of testimony today followed a federal judge’s refusal yesterday to block the impeachment panel from proceeding, reports the Times-Picayune.

The judge’s lawyer, Richard Westling, had argued for a temporary restraining order, telling U.S. District Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia that Congress is violating his client’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by using testimony Porteous was required to give under a grant of immunity from criminal prosecution.

Irvin Nathan, general counsel for the House of Representatives, argued in response that the U.S. Department of Justice is not going to prosecute Porteous, that impeachment is not a criminal proceeding and that the judicial branch is not empowered to ban the legislative branch from fulfilling its role in this matter.

Leon said at yesterday’s hearing near the Capitol that it would be “beyond extraordinary” for him to grant the TRO. While Porteous could still seek a preliminary injunction later this year, it would be a “very, very long shot,” the judge said.

Additional coverage: “US House Gears Up for Possible Impeachment of Federal Judge” “Holland & Knight Partner to Lead Judge Impeachment Probe” “Number of Ethics Probes of Federal Judges Appears Unprecedented”

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