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Ken Turchi
IU Maurer School of Law

Last modified: Monday, September 20, 2010

Law professor testified as ethics expert in judicial impeachment

Sept. 20, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A Senate committee that is presiding over the impeachment trial of U.S. District Judge Thomas G. Porteous called Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor Charles G. Geyh to testify as a witness on Sept. 15.

Charles Geyh

Ann Schertz

Charles Geyh

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Geyh, the John F. Kimberling Professor of Law, testified as an expert witness in the Senate Impeachment Trial Committee's proceedings on four articles of impeachment against the U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Appointed in 1994, Porteous has been accused of declining to disqualify himself from a case in which he solicited money from a lawyer with whom he had a longstanding, corrupt relationship; giving bail bondsmen preferential treatment in exchange for meals, trips and services; perjuring himself in his bankruptcy proceeding; and lying under oath during his Senate confirmation proceedings.

Geyh testified about the ethical standards governing federal judges and the extent to which Porteous violated them. On cross-examination, Porteous' attorneys tried to elicit testimony from Geyh that Louisiana operates under different ethical standards from other parts of the country. Geyh agreed that although local courts have their own customs and practices, the judicial code itself is based on national standards.

"The Code of Conduct is a national document. And while there may be some variations, the ethics of judicial conduct are uniform," he said.

Geyh added that other judges' violations of ethical standards should have no bearing on the Porteous case. "'Everybody is doing it' -- or 'lots of people are doing it' -- can be a slippery slope to hell," he observed.

Geyh's appearance before the Senate marks the second time he has been called to testify in the Porteous case. In December 2009, he appeared before a congressional task force on judicial impeachment, which resulted in the House of Representatives' unanimous approval of the four articles of impeachment in March 2010.

Impeachment of federal judges is extremely rare. As Geyh noted in his recent book, When Courts & Congress Collide: The Struggle for America's Judicial System, only seven judges have been removed through impeachment in the history of the United States. The last judge, Walter Nixon of the Southern District of Mississippi, was removed in 1989.

The associate dean for research at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Geyh is the director of the American Bar Association's Judicial Disqualification Project and the author of a forthcoming monograph on judicial disqualification in the federal courts. He 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 at