NH Sen. Shaheen hears judge's impeachment trial

September 17, 2010

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -  New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said Friday her background as a governor is serving her well as she sits on a panel hearing the first impeachment trial of a federal judge in more than 20 years.

Shaheen, a Democrat in her first term, is among 12 senators who have been hearing the case of U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous of Louisiana, who is accused of taking payoffs and lying under oath. After the trial ends next week, they'll present facts to the full Senate, where a two-thirds vote is needed for conviction. If convicted, Porteous would become the eighth federal judge in U.S. history to be impeached, convicted and removed from office.

Shaheen is one of the few non-lawyers on the panel, but she said that can be an asset given that senators have been reminding themselves that the impeachment trial is not a criminal or civil trial and thus has different rules.

"That's probably one of the benefits I bring," she said in a phone interview from Washington. "Also, having been a governor I think is helpful, having been in a situation where we dealt with very serious issues around personnel. I think that's very helpful to be able to really weigh the facts in the case."

In opening statements Monday, House members acting as prosecutors outlined what they called a decades-long pattern of unethical behavior by the New Orleans-area judge, who is charged with taking cash, expensive meals and other gifts from lawyers and a bail bondsman, lying to Congress and filing for bankruptcy under a false name. Porteous' attorney denied some allegations and said the judge's behavior, while perhaps reflecting poor judgment at times, doesn't meet the high crimes and misdemeanors standard set in the Constitution for impeachment.

Shaheen is not allowed to comment on the substance of the trial but said she has felt a strong sense of history and responsibility during the proceedings.

"When you think about the last time there was an impeachment proceeding .... and look at the history of the country and see how few times it was done, there are two things: One is the sense of history, but the other is just the import of what we're doing," she said.

Shaheen was governor in 2000 when the chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court was impeached on charges he allowed judges to stay involved in cases in which they had conflicts and tried to improperly influence a case. Justice David Brock was impeached by the House and cleared by the Senate.

Unlike the federal impeachment process, there was no Senate panel appointed to hear the trial. The full 24-member Senate heard the case.

By:  Holly Ramer
Source: Associated Press