Thursday, September 16, 2010

Impeach Porteous to Send a Message?

Turley's basic argument for not impeaching Porteous is not that his behavior is exemplary, but that the misdeeds do not meet the standard demanded by the Constitution - especially since most of the charges date to his time as a State Judge and the bankruptcy issues were both personal and, my reading of Turley's position, trivial.

As Turley points out, the Justice Department declined to prosecute Porteous for his acts while a State Judge - and for lying to the FBI - because it didn't think it could meet the evidentiary demands of a trial. In short, it passed the buck, telling the House and Senate to do what it could not do.

The two main issues with the bankruptcy seem to be that the Judge signed a false name, on advice of his attorney, when he filed and didn't fully report all his income and debts. He did sign a false name, apparently (and there's no reason to doubt this) to avoid the embarrassment of having his name appear as a bankrupt in the local papers. The filing was amended the following day, under his real name. The House argues that he perjured himself. Period. Yes, but. This smacks all too much of how the system uses a technical but non-material matter to punish somebody for some activity that one disapproves of (either with or without substantive grounds for that disapproval). In short, if this kind of legal misdeed, even by a judge, is enough to justify impeachment then any judge who angers the PTB could be removed for some misdeed of some kind since few of us get through life without doing something we wish we hadn't.

The second issue has to do with the judge's failure to fully and honestly report all his income (including an income tax refund)and his gambling debts as well as his incurrence of additional debt (gambling) while in bankruptcy (something he swore not to do). Since he signed the bankruptcy papers under threat of perjury, he is guilty of perjury and therefore deserves to be impeached. My problem with this is that, once again, perjury is being used as a weapon in a situation that, under most circumstances, would not result in any action against the individual. Indeed, in my own non-legal opinion, it seems to me that perjury is used all too often to impose political and legal penalties when the accusers have no other tools at hand.

In other words, if he were not a judge, if he were an ordinary citizen, neither of these acts would, I suspect, result in any legal action against the debtor involved.

Turley's other main, unspoken, argument is that Porteous as a State Judge did not act differently than any other Judge in his part of Louisiana and that the entire impeachment is, in essence, due to a decision the Judge made in a case that angered the PTB. And it would set a bad precedent to impeach a judge because, in essence, of a decision he issued as a judge.

OTOH, the main unspoken argument for his impeachment seems to be that it would send a message to State Judges and potential judicial appointees that certain types of behavior can be expected to be punished - even if they are not disclosed prior to the receipt of a judicial appointment. This is the "long-term jail terms and the death penalty prevent crime" argument.

Quite frankly, I think Porteous should have resigned and it is obvious to me that he didn't because he needs the income of a lifetime appointment - as well as the pension. He is by no means a sympathetic defendant.

So the issue comes down to which is worse: using essentially spurious charges to unseat a Federal Judge - thus considerably lowing the bar for impeachment (like the impeachment of Clinton dud) - or telling the legal community that unethical if not outright illegal behavior is no bar to getting a Federal Judgeship.

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