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Originally published Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 6:18 PM

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Senate convicts, ousts U.S. judge in Louisiana over cash and favors

The Senate on Wednesday found Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of U.S. District Court in Louisiana guilty on four articles of impeachment and removed him from the bench.

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday found Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of U.S. District Court in Louisiana guilty on four articles of impeachment and removed him from the bench; he becomes the eighth federal judge to be removed from office and the first the Senate has ousted in more than two decades.

Porteous was impeached by the House in March on charges that he received cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors and intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation proceedings.

The prosecutors said gambling and drinking problems led Porteous to begin accepting cash and other favors from attorneys and bail bondsmen with business before his court.

The behavior amounted to a "pattern of conduct incompatible with the trust and confidence placed in him," according to the articles against him.

Porteous, 64, was appointed to the bench by President Clinton in 1994 and has been suspended with pay since 2008. As a result of his removal from the bench, which took effect immediately, he will not receive his annual federal pension of $174,000.

In earlier hearings, two attorneys who once worked with Porteous had testified that they gave him thousands of dollars in cash, including about $2,000 stuffed in an envelope in 1999, just before Porteous decided a major civil case in their client's favor. They also said they paid for meals, trips and part of a bachelor party for one of Porteous' sons in Las Vegas, including a lap dance at a strip club.

Another witness, New Orleans bail bondsman Louis Marcotte, described a long-standing relationship in which Marcotte and his employees routinely took Porteous to lavish meals at French Quarter restaurants, repaired his automobiles, washed and filled his cars with gas, and took him on trips. In return, Porteous manipulated bond amounts for defendants to give Marcotte the highest fees possible, said Marcotte, who served 18 months in prison on related corruption charges.

Though Porteous never denied many of the facts in the case, his defense was based in part on the notion that officials could not be impeached for conduct that occurred before their attaining the office from which they would be removed.

"In the history of this republic, no one has ever been removed from office on the basis of pre-federal conduct," said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who led Porteous' defense.

Arguing on the Senate floor Tuesday, Turley said that convicting Porteous would enable future Congresses "to dredge up any pre-federal conduct to strip the bench of unpopular judges, or to remove other federal officials" at whim.

Indeed, the vote on that second article of impeachment was the closest, barely surpassing the required two-thirds required for adoption.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the team of House impeachment managers, countered that it was important for the Senate to establish that, "if you committed serious misconduct and you're nominated for a high office, it's not enough to conceal that conduct from the Senate," particularly when a lifetime appointment is at stake.

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The other three articles of impeachment were passed with no fewer than 88 votes, including a unanimous vote on the first.

Though the Congress found Porteous guilty, he does not face criminal prosecution. An eight-year investigation by the Department of Justice and FBI ended in 2007 without an indictment, but spurred a formal complaint of judicial misconduct that led to the House being asked to consider impeachment in 2008.

"I am deeply saddened to be removed from office but I felt it was important not just to me but to the judiciary to take this fight to the Senate," Porteous said in a statement.

The statement added, "While I still believe these allegations did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses as a constitutional matter, I understand how people of good faith could disagree."

In 1989, Judges Alcee Hastings and Walter Nixon were impeached, found guilty by the Senate and removed from office.

Compiled from The New York Times, Tribune Washington bureau and The Associated Press

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