Federal Judge Pleads with Senate to Throw Out Impeachment Charges
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge, making a personal plea during an extraordinary appearance on the Senate floor, urged senators Wednesday to throw out impeachment charges that he plotted to get a $150,000 bribe and lied about it at his trial.
Saying a jury has acquitted him, District Judge Alcee L. Hastings of Miami told senators: ″The jury system is the cornerstone of justice in America and to tamper with it lightly is to send a message that is both pernicious and dangerous.″
Many senators sat in silence listening to the 52-year-old first black federal judge in Florida history as he made his appeal.
The proceeding was held only to hear the plea by Hastings for dismissal of 16 of the 17 articles of impeachment approved Aug. 3 by a House vote of 413-3.
The Senate planned to wait until Thursday to rule on Hastings’ motion to dismiss. Evidence in the case is set to be heard later by a special Senate committee.
Hastings called on the senators to dismiss charges that he conspired with attorney William Borders to obtain a payoff and then committed perjury at his 1983 trial, which ended in acquittal.
He was not seeking dismissal of the charge that he disclosed secret wiretap information and thus torpedoed a federal investigation. But he did deny that he had done so.
Standing in the well of the Senate, Hastings recalled in a firm voice how he had fought the charges against him at his trial.
″I proclaimed my innocence then as I have from the outset and as I do now,″ Hastings said. He said that when the jury delivered its verdict after 17 hours of deliberations each of the jurors stood and said, ″Not guilty.″
″Five years of postacquittal investigation has produced no new evidence that wasn’t available to the prosecution,″ Hastings said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks, D-Texas, urged the Senate to proceed with the impeachment, declaring that Hastings had ″conspired to sell his public office for personal gain.″
″He subverted our judicial process by repeatedly lying under oath,″ Brooks told the Senate. ″Today, Judge Hastings asks you to ignore his corrupt conduct. ... In doing so, he asks you to rely on a tainted jury verdict.″
Brooks also read a statement from absent Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., a leading House proponent of civil rights on the House Judiciary Committee.
The Conyers statement said the ″evidence established that Alcee Hastings ... did in fact commit high crimes and misdemeanors which justify his impeachment.″
″We did not wage the civil rights struggle simply to replace one form of judicial corruption with another,″ the Conyers statement said.
The proceeding is not the same as a criminal trial in a court. If convicted, Hastings would remain free but would be removed from the bench and denied his $89,500 annual salary.
According to the charges, Hastings plotted with Borders in 1981 to obtain a $150,000 bribe from two brothers, Frank and Tom Romano, convicted of skimming from a Teamsters pension fund loan.
Prosecutors say that in return, Hastings was planning to wipe out three- year sentences he had imposed on the brothers. He also allegedly was prepared to restore more than $1 million forfeited by the brothers.
Borders, a prominent Washington criminal lawyer, was convicted in a separate trial and sentenced to five years in prison. His appeals failed.
The Romano brothers, both of whom have since died, never took part in the alleged bribe conspiracy. They were offered a chance to do so and made it clear that they were uninterested. Their refusal complicated matters for the FBI, which already had Borders under investigation.
To keep the investigation alive, retired FBI agent H. Paul Rico posed as Frank Romano and agreed to pay the bribe, prosecutors say.
Borders was arrested Oct. 9, 1981, as he drove out of a suburban Virginia parking lot with Rico and with a garment bag packed with $125,000 in cash.
FBI agents arrested Hastings in Miami that night.