Playing the role of prosecutors, Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., used their opening statements to a Senate impeachment panel to outline what they called a decades-long pattern of unethical behavior by New Orleans-area U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous. They said that included taking cash, expensive meals and gifts from lawyers and a bail bondsman, lying to Congress and filing for bankruptcy under a false name.
Porteous' attorney, Jonathan Turley, denied some allegations but acknowledged others such as accepting meals, which he said is perfectly legal. He said the judge's behavior, while perhaps reflecting poor judgment, doesn't meet the high crimes and misdemeanors standard set in the Constitution for impeachment.
"Judge Porteous has never been indicted, let alone convicted, of any crime," Turley said. "What the Congress has impeached this judge for is an appearance of impropriety."
Turley also said much of the conduct in question occurred when Porteous was a state judge and that Congress would be breaking from precedent by convicting him for behavior that occurred before he joined the federal bench.
The House voted unanimously in March to impeach Porteous. A two-thirds vote is needed in the Senate to convict him.
Senators hearing the case appear ready to resolve it quickly, scheduling a series of all-day hearings this week and next.
Porteous' behavior was uncovered in a five-year FBI investigation in Jefferson Parish dubbed "Operation Wrinkled Robe." Although the sting netted convictions against more than a dozen others, Porteous was never charged with a crime. He was, however, suspended from the bench.
Turley said Porteous, 63, plans to retire next year regardless of what happens.