Saturday, September 18, 2010

Porteous impeachment trial - more thoughts on perjury

I don't think Porteous deserved to be made a Federal Judge, but I think these charges smell almost as bad as Porteous' behavior and to non-lawyer me show yet again how dishonest prosecutors at all levels of government use the technicalities of the law to punish people they can't otherwise punish.

What do I mean? First, there is all this talk about what Porteous did prior to being named to the Federal Court. It's obvious that he was part of a crony system not uncommon, I suspect, in various parts of the country other than Louisiana. He was, at best, a moocher. But the Senate - which has been holding up most of Obama's judicial appointments for two years, either didn't bother to study his past or ignored it when they confirmed him.
Second, and to me even more troubling, is the use of the perjury club against Porteous and the related attempt to impeach the testimony of witnesses like Gardner. So Porteous signed a fake name to the bankruptcy petition to avoid publicity and submitted a "corrected" form the next day? To the ordinary citizen, this is clearly a "no harm, no foul" situation. It is being used against Porteous only because some people somewhere decided they wanted him off the Federal bench and this is a valid charge to bring against him. As for his lying on the bankruptcy documents about his income & debts in spite of swearing to tell the truth. I would, quite frankly, be surprised if even 10% of bankruptcy filings by individuals (or corporations, for that matter) were complete and honest. People lie. And people lie most about their income and debts. Think divorce trials if you have no experience with bankruptcy.

Should we expect better behavior from lawyers and judges than from ordinary citizens? Theoretically, yes, But the ethics bar for lawyers has always struck me as being both rather low and rarely enforced. As for judges: if you can prove to me that no other judge on the State or Federal circuit has ever engaged in behavior similar to that of Porteous, than I will concede that the impeachment is justified. I'm willing to bet, however, that he is being singled out for reasons that I don't understand and therefore find highly suspicious. These impeachment charges seem to be the judicial equivalent of the charges brought against President Clinton: motivated by politics rather than justice.

Lastly, I absolutely loathe the way trial attorneys use previous testimony to impeach witnesses, and I loathe the fact that they are able to do so. So Gardner today (Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010) said "no" to the posed question that Porteous was one of his best friends in the world, would only admit to his being a "very good friend". No ordinary person would under normal circumstances have accused Gardner of lying either before or now. Maybe he exaggerated before, maybe he no longer feels quite the same way, maybe he's just decided that his previous description of the friendship was juvenile. Big deal. (As for the bail bondsmen and lawyers who gave the FBI a "thumbs up" on Porteous, come on. How many people asked to give a future employer a fair assessment of a candidate don't, if they like the person, emphasize the good stuff and ignore the bad stuff? If this is a crime or evidence of undue influence, than I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a citizen who isn't guilty of such behavior.)

It seems to me that way too many people are being sent to jail for "lying" in circumstances where ordinary people will lie - even under oath. (How many people who sign off on software license agreements have ever actually complied with all the terms let alone even read them?) It may be legal to use "perjury" charges to send people to jail, but in most* of the cases I've seen over the years, it seems to be used awfully selectively - like charging Al Capone with income tax fraud when the government couldn't get a conviction for any of his real crimes.

*The only exception I can think of would be for people who lie under oath during a trial in order either to convict an innocent person or help a guilty person go free.

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