Just put a piece on Huffington Post on this question, which was prompted (for me), by having two potential impeachments against federal trial judges:
- Judge Thomas Porteous of New Orleans, who has been under investigation for a long time for a variety of peccadilloes over the years, including bankruptcy fraud and some very shaky dealings when a state court judge (taking payments from lawyer-friends, who then received good appointments from his court). Still, the judge’s alleged misconduct was mostly dumb, or a very long time ago.
- Judge Samuel Kent of Houston (below), who pled guilty to obstruction of justice when he denied engaging in sexual harrassment of a female court employee. Judge Kent resigned as a judge, but his lawyer claims he has a medical condition that will entitle him to remain on disability as a judge (that is, to be paid) for the rest of his life.
These cases present the very practical problem faced by long-serving judges who run afoul of reasonable expectations of their behavior. After many years on the bench at modest pay (for lawyers), they have very modest resources for retirement. That makes the prospect of losing their judicial pensions very scary, particularly since they also have very modest prospects for making a good living in the future. Indeed, Judge Kent is likely to be a Guest of the Federal Government for some time, where earning prospects are modest indeed.
Impeachment is a very clanky tool for dealing with such situations.