While it has been nearly twenty years since the last federal judge was fully impeached, the two-decades-long (nearly) unblemished record may be shattered soon. District Judge Thomas Porteous (E.D. La.) has been publicly censured for (among other accusations) soliciting money from attorneys appearing before him and filing false financial disclosure forms. To read the Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit’s underlying Order and Public Reprimand, click here (citing violations of 28 U.S.C. § 455 and Canons 1, 2A, 3C(1), 3D, 5C(1), (4), and (6) of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges). The Council even opines that Judge Porteous committed several federal crimes (such as honest-services mail fraud), in addition to the ethical violations. The House Judiciary Committee has just formed a task force to consider the nuclear impeachment option.
This is big. The last federal judge impeached was former District Judge Alcee Hastings (S.D. Fla.) for allegedly accepting a bribe for lenient sentencing and then committing perjury. Mr. Hastings then became a Congressman.
At least one nagging question: If the reports are accurate that Judge Porteous has twice offered to retire in light of his struggles, is impeachment necessary? To deter other federal judges from committing felonies? To punish or judicially incapacitate the Judge? Would not retirement plus criminal prosecution (if warranted) be sufficient?