Restoring integrity to our judicial system

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By Congressman Bob Goodlatte

It is a rare occasion when the U.S. Congress impeaches a federal judge and removes the accused from the bench.  Indeed, only 8 federal judges have been removed from office in our nation’s history.  However, when evidence emerges that an individual is abusing his judicial office for his own advantage, the integrity of the judicial system becomes compromised, and the Congress has the duty to investigate the matter and take the appropriate actions to end the abuse and restore confidence in the judicial system.

As the Ranking Member of the House Task Force on Judicial Impeachment I served as one of the two lead prosecutors in the impeachment trial of Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  Earlier this week I presented closing arguments before the U.S. Senate in the Porteous case, which was the first Senate impeachment trial of a federal judge since 1989.  This was the culmination of months worth of work including the initial investigatory phase, four evidentiary hearings, the presentation of the articles of impeachment by the House Task Force on Judicial Impeachment to the House Judiciary Committee, a vote by the House Judiciary Committee, a unanimous vote for impeachment by the House of Representatives, and the presentation of the articles of impeachment before the Senate Impeachment Trial Committee.  

Our case was based on four articles of impeachment, which charged Judge Porteous with intentionally making materially false statements and representations under penalty of perjury, engaging in a corrupt kickback scheme, soliciting and accepting unlawful gifts, deliberately violating court orders and intentionally misleading the Senate during his confirmation proceedings.

Specifically, the four articles of impeachment charged that while on the federal bench, Judge Porteous refused to withdraw as the judge from a case when he had previously engaged in a corrupt kickback scheme with the attorneys representing one of the parties; that he later took thousands of dollars in cash from those same attorneys while the case was pending; that he took gifts from a bail bondsman in exchange for granting favorable bond rates for him and then improperly expunged the records of two of the bail bondsman’s employees, one after he was confirmed by the Senate to be a federal judge; that he lied to a bankruptcy court when he filed for bankruptcy and then violated a bankruptcy court order mandating that he not incur further debt; and that he made materially false statements to the U.S. Senate and FBI during his confirmation process.

Following the presentation of closing arguments the Senate found Judge Porteous guilty on all four articles of impeachment and removed the Judge from the federal bench, making him the eighth federal judge to be removed from office.   It is not a pleasant task to remove a federal judge from the bench, yet when a judge abuses his office, it becomes necessary to take the appropriate action in order to restore the confidence of the American people in the judicial system.  The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power and responsibility to impeach federal judges and the Senate the power to remove the accused from office after a fair and impartial hearing.  These are powers that Congress utilizes only in cases involving serious allegations of misconduct.  In every step of this lengthy process, we in Congress worked in a non-partisan manner to uncover the truth in order to root out corruption and protect the integrity of our judicial system.  With the Senate’s vote to convict Judge Porteous on all four articles of impeachment it sets a new and much-needed standard of conduct of all who are entrusted with public duties.