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IU Maurer School of Law
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Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Law professor serves as witness in judicial impeachment hearing

Dec. 15, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A Congressional task force on judicial impeachment called on Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor Charles G. Geyh today (Dec. 15) to testify as a witness in its hearing to consider the possible impeachment of U.S. District Judge Thomas G. Porteous.

Geyh, the John F. Kimberling Professor of Law, was one of three national experts to appear before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, delivering his opinion on what he called "ethical concerns of the most extreme sort" by Judge Porteous.

Charles Geyh

Ann Schertz

Charles Geyh

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Porteous, appointed in 1994 to the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, has been accused of accepting cash and other gifts from attorneys -- many of whom were personal friends -- who appeared before his court. The judge also declined to recuse himself from presiding in a case where the defendant had a close relationship with one of Porteous' friends. Geyh's testimony examined Porteous' alleged behavior as both a state and federal judge.

"As egregious as the judge's alleged conduct was in several episodes viewed in isolation, the whole exceeds the sum of its parts," Geyh said, citing the Judicial Conference Report that brought to light the allegations against Porteous. "Taken together, the actions that Judge Porteous is reported to have taken as a state and federal judge reflect a cynical and contorted view of judicial service as an opportunity to be exploited; of judicial power as a thing to be abused for personal gain; and of legal and ethical constraints on judicial conduct as obstacles to be circumvented."

The Judicial Conference Report found that Porteous had routinely accepted expensive meals from attorneys involved in one of his court's pending cases. One of the attorneys took the judge on all expenses-paid hunting and fishing trips, receiving nothing in return. When the attorneys complained, Porteous assigned their firm to oversee curatorships, receiving a portion of the fees in the process.

"(Judge Porteous') conduct thus entailed a gross abuse of judicial power" that showed a complete disregard for the core ethical qualities a judge should display, Geyh testified.

Geyh said Porteous' alleged actions as a federal judge could be viewed as even more troublesome. When two of Porteous' longtime benefactors represented a plaintiff in his court, Porteous refused to disqualify himself from hearing the case. So well known was the judge's connection with the plaintiff's attorneys that the defendant in the case hired another one of Porteous' friends to "level the playing field," according to the Judicial Conference Report.

"Having improperly solicited thousands of dollars from a lawyer while he was representing a party in a case pending before him, the need for Judge Porteous to disqualify himself was even more plain, rendering his erroneous failure to withdraw more obviously willful," Geyh said. "It is utterly inconceivable that a reasonable person would not question the impartiality of a judge who solicited thousands of dollars from a lawyer in a pending matter."

Should the House of Representatives vote to impeach Porteous, the U.S. Senate would hold a trial to determine whether he should be removed. Geyh said such cases are extremely rare, noting that it has been more than 20 years since a federal judge was impeached.

Geyh is the author of When Courts & Congress Collide: The Struggle for Control of America's Judicial System and is the director of the American Bar Association's Judicial Disqualification Project. He is the author of a forthcoming monograph on judicial disqualification in the federal courts and recently served as co-reporter to the ABA Joint Commission to Revise the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. He can be reached at 812-855-3210 or