House Panel OKs Impeachment Probe of Federal Judge

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House Judiciary Committee members voted Wednesday to open an impeachment probe of a federal judge appointed by former President Clinton, the first such investigation of a sitting judge in nearly two decades.

With little debate, the Democratic-led panel voted unanimously to launch an investigation against U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous, who is accused of accepting bribes and committing perjury.

The U.S. Judicial Conference, the administrative agency that manages the federal courts, claims the Louisiana jurist presided over a trial in which lawyers conducting the case had given him money. He's also accused of filing for bankruptcy under a false name.

In June, the Judicial Conference advised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that impeachment proceedings be considered by Congress.

"We take it very seriously when the governing body of the Judiciary sends us a referral for impeachment," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.

"It's not a common occurrence for the Judicial Conference to recommend something as severe as impeachment proceedings against a federal judge," said Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican Lamar Smith. "Public corruption at any level should not tolerated, but it is especially egregious when a federal judge, who has been appointed for life, falls under allegations of bribery and unethical behavior. While I regret that these actions are necessary, Congress has a responsibility to investigate and restore credibility to the federal bench."

The Judicial Conference has said it has substantial evidence that Porteous had lied on his financial disclosures to hide money from lawyers in cases over which he presided, defrauded a bank into giving him a loan and perjured himself in a bankruptcy proceeding so as to shield himself from creditors.

Porteous has served on the federal court for the Eastern District of Louisiana since 1994. The Fifth Circuit Court Judicial Council first brought up the potential impeachment in December 2007.

If the House approves impeachment articles, the case is then sent to the Senate, which renders a verdict. Porteous' removal from the bench would be the first of its kind since 1989. Two judges were convicted then. One, Alcee Hastings, is now serving in the House as Democratic representative from Florida.

FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.