The Senate impeachment trial of Judge G. Thomas Porteous of New Orleans — which you can watch this week on live webcast — has presented a fabulous cast of characters straight out of an Elmore Leonard novel.
The opening day involved testimony by two Louisiana law partners, Jake Amato and Robert Creely. Former colleagues and law partners of Judge Porteous, they described a toxic relationship that developed after Porteous went on the state court bench in Louisiana. Always short of cash because of his gambling and drinking, the judge repeatedly put the arm on the two lawyers for cash. When Amato and Creely began to balk over the payments, Porteous started sending them “conservatorships,” ministerial court appointments that would generate small amounts of money and ease the pain of the payments to the judge. He received between roughly $40,000 (though the amount is disputed) and sent them over 100 conservatorships.
Both lawyers tried to characterize their payments to Porteous as gifts to a friend, though that explanation labors badly in connection with a payment that was made while Amato had a multi-million case pending before Porteous when he was a federal judge. My hunch is that that payment alone will be enough for the Senate to convict Porteous.
The two lawyers were a study in contrasts. Amato was smooth and poised during his testimony, mostly unflappable. Creeley was rough, angry, and unhappy. He seemed near tears when he said he had to give up his law license because of the payments to Porteous.
Even more intriguing witnesses, for me, were Louis and Lori Marcotte, a brother and sister who ran a bail bond company. They presented a classic up-from-the-streets story. Raised with five other siblings in a two-room house, Louis went to work as a janitor in a bail-bond business, figured out the business and opened his own. He slept in his car outside the jail in order to intercept families when they went to see someone who was arrested, and then hustled them for bond business.
To build his business, Marcotte cultivated the judges of Jefferson Parish. Some he paid cash. Others, like Porteous, he would simply take to meals repeatedly (twice-weekly lunches for years, at nice places with plenty of liquor), and repair his cars and fence for free. And, while at lunch, they would work out the bail bonds.
A couple of things to watch as the trial unspools.
- The attendance of the twelve senators on the trial committee. The resolution on the webcast is not terrific, but it seemed to me that there were only seven senators present for some of Creely’s testimony, which is a bare quorum. Indeed, some of the testimony on Tuesday was suspended for lack of a quorum. Having only 12 senators hear the evidence is bad enough. Having only seven hear the evidence is even more scandalous. Seven percent of the Senate is less than 1/12 — that is, it’s the equivalent of not even having a single juror hear the evidence, and then asking twelve jurors to render a judgment.
- The lead defense counsel, Jonathan Turley, has claimed that he will present evidence that has never seen the light of day before, and that will fundamentally change the senators’ view of the case. That’s setting the bar pretty high.