The US Senate Impeachment Trial Committee [official website] began hearing arguments Monday in the case against federal judge Thomas Porteous who is charged with perjury and accepting bribes from lawyers while a judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website]. Porteous's lawyer Jonathan Turley [personal blog] claimed in his opening statement [text, PDF] that "Judge Porteous's actions, while in some instances showing poor judgment, were in fact entirely legal." Each side will have 20 hours to present its case. The committee will submit its findings to the Senate and decide whether to recommend a conviction. If two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict Porteous, he will be removed from office. Last week, the Judicial Council of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] voted to continue Porteous' suspension [Times-Picayune report] from the bench through the remainder of the year. This marks the Senate's first impeachment trial since the proceedings against then-president Bill Clinton [JURIST materials] in the 1990s.
The US House of Representatives [official website] voted unanimously [JURIST report] in March to impeach Porteous. After an investigation [report text, PDF] by a special committee, the Judicial Conference found "substantial evidence" that Porteous had signed false financial disclosure forms, falsified statements in a personal bankruptcy proceeding, made false representations to secure a bank loan and violated criminal laws [text] and ethical rules by soliciting and receiving "cash and other things of value" from lawyers in a bench trial over which he was presiding. Porteous' decision in that case, In re Liljeberg enters v. Lifemark Hospitals, was later partially reversed [opinion text] by the Fifth Circuit, which earlier this year reprimanded Porteous [text, PDF]. A House committee began investigating Porteous [JURIST report] in 2008.The US Constitution gives the House the power to impeach [academic backgrounder] "all civil Officers of the United States" on suspicion of "high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Thirteen federal judges have been impeached, of which seven have been convicted.