Federal judges are constitutionally protected from removal for misconduct except by a conviction by the Senate based on articles of impeachment approved by the House of Representatives.
However, each federal circuit court does have a process to handle ethics complaints against district court and circuit judges. After a lengthy investigation of U.S. District Court Judge G. Thomas Porteous, The Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit issued an “Order And Public Reprimand” on June 17, 2008. The Council found that the 62-year-old Porteous, a judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans, committed seven violations of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, and that he likely violated several federal criminal laws. The Order states in part:
- “Judge Porteous repeatedly committed perjury by signing false financial disclosure forms under oath. … . This perjury concealed the cash and things of value that he solicited and received from lawyers appearing in litigation before him.”
- “Judge Porteous repeatedly committed perjury by signing false statements under oath in a personal bankruptcy proceeding. … This perjury allowed him to obtain a discharge of his debts while continuing his lifestyle at the expense of his creditors.”
- “Judge Porteous wilfully and systematically concealed from litigants and the public certain financial transactions by filing false financial disclosure forms … which require the disclosure of income, gifts, loans, and liabilities. This conduct made it impossible for litigants to seek recusal or to challenge his failure to recuse himself in cases in which lawyers who appeared before him had given him cash and other things of value …”
- Judge Porteous violated several criminal statutes and ethical canons by presiding over In Re: Liljeberg Enter. Inc. v. Lifemark Hosps. Inc., No. 2:93-cv‑th 01784, rev’d in part by 304 F. 3d 410 (5 Cir. 2002). In that matter, which was tried without a jury, he denied a motion to recuse based on his relationship with lawyers in the case … In denying the motion, he failed to disclose that the lawyers in question had often provided him with cash. Thereafter, while a bench verdict was pending, he solicited and received from the lawyers appearing before him illegal gratuities in the form of cash and other things of value… This conduct, undertaken in a concealed manner, deprived the public of its right to his honest services…”
- “Judge Porteous made false representations to gain the extension of a bank loan with the intent to defraud the bank and causing the bank to incur losses …”
As punishment for his unethical and possibly criminal conduct the Order directed that “no new cases be assigned to Judge Porteous for two years from the date of this Order and Public Reprimand or until Congress takes final action on the impeachment proceedings, whichever occurs earlier.” The order also directed the suspension of “Judge Porteous’s authority to employ staff.” However, the Judicial Council does not have the authority to suspend Porteous’ annual salary of $165,200 or his federal pension.
After the Order was issued the Judicial Conference of the United States recommended that the U.S. House of Representatives consider the impeachment of Porteous. The U.S. House Judiicary Committee voted on September 17, 2008 to open an impeachment investigation of Judge Porteous.
IN RE: Complaint of Judicial Misconduct against United States District Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr. under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980, No. 07-05-351-0085, The Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit, “Order And Public Reprimand,” June 17, 2008.
US House Committee approves impeachment proceedings, Jurist, September 18, 2008.
By Hans Sherrer