Friday, January 11, 2008

Fifth Circuit Recommends Impeachment of Federal Judge Based on Bankruptcy Misconduct

On December 20, 2007, the Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit entered a Memorandum Order and Certification in which it certified to the Judicial Conference of the United States its determination that U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous had engaged in conduct which might constitute grounds for impeachment. In re: Complaint of Judicial Misconduct against United States District Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980, Docket No. 07-05-351-0085. One of the grounds stated for possible impeachment was the Judge's misconduct while he was a Chapter 13 debtor.

Judge Porteous was appointed to the U.S. District Court bench in New Orleans in 1994. On March 28, 2001, he filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The Bankruptcy Judges for the Eastern District recused themselves on the basis that they were a unit of the District Court of which Judge Porteous was a judge. The Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit appointed Bankruptcy Judge William Greendyke to hear the case. Judge Porteous confirmed a plan and ultimately received a discharge on July 22, 2004.

The Judicial Council made the following findings about the Judge's bankruptcy case:

"Judge Porteous filed numerous false statements under oath during his and his wife's Chapter 13 bankruptcy, including filing the petiiton under a false name; concealing assets of the bankruptcy estate; failing to identify gambling losses; and failing to list all creditors. Judge Porteous additionally violated bankruptcy court orders forbidding him from incurring debt during the course of the Chapter 13 cse without approval of the trustee or bankruptcy judge, in that he continued regularly to incur short-term extensions of credit from various casinos. Judge Porteous additionally made unauthorized and undisclosed payments to preferred creditors after the commencement of the bankruptcy case."

Memorandum Order, p. 3.

In addition to the bankruptcy grounds stated, the Judicial Council found that the Judge had engaged in deceptive conduct concerning a debt he owed to Regions Bank prior to bankruptcy, that he received gifts and things of value from attorneys who had cases pending before him and that he failed to report the gifts on his financial disclosures.

According to an article in The New Orleans Times-Picayune, there were 7,462 complaints filed against federal judges in the decade ending September 30, 2006. Out of those complaints, eight required action by a judicial council and none was referred to the Judicial Conference for possible impeachment. Meghan Gordon, "Move to impeach federal judge a rarity," The Times-Picayune, December 23, 2007. Since the current law was passed in 1981, three federal judges have been removed from office through impeachment, all of them during the 1980s.

From this point, the Judicial Conference of the United States will review the case and will make a recommendation to the House of Representatives. If the House of Representatives votes for impeachment, there will be a trial before the Senate.

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