Top Judicial Ethics Stories of 2010

Article excerpt

Impeachment of Judge Thomas Porteous

For only the eighth time in the country's history (j^ home.nsf/page/judges_impeachments.html), a federal judge was removed from office when, on December 8, 2010, the Senate voted that Thomas Porteous of the Eastern District of Louisiana was guilty on all four articles of impeachment filed by the House of Representatives,

Article I related to the judge's denial of a motion to recuse himself from a case despite his corrupt financial relationship with a law firm representing the plaintiff and alleged that he made intentionally misleading statements minimizing the relationship that deprived the 5th Circuit of critical information for its review of his denial of the motion. The Senate voted 96-0 to convict Porteous on Article 1.

In contrast, the Senate vote was 69-27 on allegations that, while on the state bench, Porteous solicited and accepted things of value for his personal benefit from bail bondsman while taking official actions that benefitted them. Article II was based on information uncovered by the FBI in its "Operation Wrinkled Robe" investigation of Louisiana's 24th Judicial District Court, on which Porteous served from 1984 until his appointment to the federal bench in 1994.

Article III alleged that, while a federal judge, Porteous knowingly and intentionally made material false statements under penalty of perjuryrelated to his personal bankruptcy; used a false name and address to conceal his identity as the debtor; concealed assets, preferential payments to certain creditors, and gambling losses; and incurred new debts in violation of the bankruptcy court's order. Article FV alleged that Porteous made material false statements about his past to obtain the office of U.S. District Judge.

Disciplinary proceedings against Judge Sharon Keller

To avoid the criticism she has faced for diree years - a firestorm that culminated in 2010 - Presiding Judge Sharon Keller would not have had to keep the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals clerk's office open late on September 25, 2007, to accept a pleading on behalf of a death row inmate scheduled to be executed that day - all she would have had to do is follow the court's protocol and refer the question to the judge assigned to that execution. Judge Cheryl Johnson, the assigned judge for Michael Richard's execution, and other members of the court were waiting at the courthouse after 5:00 p.m., anticipating a filing in light of the U.S. Supreme Court giant of certiorari that morning in Bau v. Rees, a Kenmcky case challenging the constitutionality of the three-drug protocol for executions also used in Texas. Judge Keller had gone home at 3:45 p.m. to meet a repairman. "I thought there was a dangerous situation with my oven," she told a reporter.

When court counsel called Judge Keller at home around 4:45 and asked whether the clerk's office could stay open past 5:00 because Richard's counsel was not ready to file, Judge Keller said something to the effect of, "We close at 5:00 p.m.." A court clerk called the Texas Defender Service, Richard's counsel, and said he had been told to say "we close at 5:00 p.m." Judge Johnson has said that she would have accepted the filing if the calis had been referred to her. Because no pleadings were filed in the state court, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Richard's request for a stay at 8:01 p.m., and he was executed at 8:23 p.m. Richard was the only person to be executed in the U.S. between the grant of certiorari in Baze and the decision upholding the constitutionality of the three-drug protocol in April 2008.

At the end of a conference held the morning after Richard's execution, the other judges on the court, who were not aware of the communications the day before, discussed their surprise that Richard's lawyers had not filed anything and expressed their belief that the court should allow a late filing if someone called and said they wanted to file something, but could not get it there before 5:00 p. …