House votes to impeach federal judge. Bribery and perjury charges persist despite earlier acquittal at trial

When the House of Representatives yesterday voted 413 to 3 to approve 17 articles of impeachment against federal Judge Alcee Lamar Hastings, the judge cried ``racism'' and his lawyer cried foul. The lead counsel for the defense, University of Miami law Prof. Terrence J. Anderson, charges that the House Judiciary Committee, which two weeks ago voted 32 to 1 in favor of impeachment, and the full House acted before the record of the committee's hearings was ``even printed.''

``Maybe I'm just a naive lawyer to expect them not to vote before seeing the full committee report.''

A spokesman for John Conyers Jr. (D) of Michigan, chairman of the judiciary subcommittee that acted as a grand jury in the House procedure, contradicted Mr. Anderson. He says the record plus additional material from the panel's inquiry were included in a report ``made available to any member who wanted one.''

The Senate will conduct a trial on the charges voted by the House.

The articles of impeachment accuse Mr. Hastings, a United States district-court judge in Florida, of conspiracy to accept a bribe and perjury during a 1983 trial on the bribery charges in which the judge was acquitted, among other things.

Hastings called the congressional vote ``rubber-stamp racism.'' Representative Conyers, a black man who cut his political teeth during the civil rights battles of the 1960s, said he could find no evidence to support the judge's charge.

The Senate must decide if Hastings will be tried before the full body, or before a 12-member committee like Judge Harry Claiborne of Nevada, who was impeached and convicted in 1986.

Anderson says the Senate broke 198 years of precedent in the Claiborne case by conducting a committee trial, then using a written record of the committee's proceeding as the basis for the vote by the full Senate.

``This strikes me as something that has to be revisited,'' Anderson says.

The tribulations of Judge Hastings began in 1981, when he was indicted for conspiring to accept a bribe. Washington, D.C., attorney William Borders, a longtime pal of Hastings, held himself out to underworld figures as having the ability to fix a case coming before the judge.

That trial was of Thomas and Frank Romano for violations under the federal racketeering law. Mr. Borders told the brothers he could ensure lenient treatment by Hastings in return for $150,000.

Borders, who had never seen the Romanos, consummated the deal with an FBI agent posing as one of the brothers. Borders eventually went to prison.

No bribe money was traced to Hastings, however. The judge, who sentenced the Romanos to three years in prison, says he was an innocent victim of Border's scam. The trial court agreed.

But two of the judge's colleagues on the bench disagreed with the verdict, claiming that Hastings lied at trial. They filed a complaint for another investigation under a federal statute. After a hearing that resulted in a 4,900-page transcript, a five-member committee concluded that the jury verdict was a miscarriage of justice. The report was forwarded to the Judicial Council for the 11th Circuit and on to the Judicial Conference, which concurred that impeachment might be warranted.

That finding then proceeded to the House of Representatives, resulting in today's vote.

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