In recommending impeachment of U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings, a House subcommittee accused Florida's first black federal judge of betraying "the trust of the people."
The subcommittee voted unanimously Thursday to send the full Judiciary Committee 17 articles of impeachment against Hastings for "high crimes and misdemeanors" warranting removal from office. Most of Hastings' eight years on the bench have been spent fending off charges he conspired with a Washington lawyer to solicit bribes from defendants seeking lenient treatment.Subcommittee Chairman John Conyers, who is black, told a packed congressional hearing room that the decision to recommend Hastings' impeachment was the most difficult one of his career.
"(But) it would be disloyal to attempt at this late stage in my career to set up a double standard," said Conyers, D-Mich. "We must demand all persons live up to the same high standards.
"Impeachment serves as the ultimate check. It ensures the integrity of the federal judiciary," he noted.
The Judiciary Committee now must decide whether to send the resolution to the House floor. If the House votes to impeach Hastings, the Senate conducts a trial to remove him from the bench and strip him of his $89,500 annual salary.
The judge, who says he is the target of a political and racial vendetta, was not present for Thursday's vote because he was presiding over a case in Miami. His lawyer, Terence Anderson, expressed surprise only at "the unanimity" of the vote and said the judge would not resign.
The articles of impeachment, adopted 7-0, accused Hastings of accepting a $150,000 bribe and repeatedly lying about his actions to avoid conviction. The subcommittee also alleged he leaked information about a wiretap, undermining a federal corruption probe.
"(This served to) undermine confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and betray the trust of the people of the United States, thereby bringing disrepute on the federal courts," the resolution said.
Hastings was acquitted of the bribery charge in 1983, but two of his colleagues on the 11th Circuit became convinced of his guilt and led a drive to remove him from the bench. Those efforts culminated with the Judicial Conference, the policy-making arm of the federal judiciary, recommending Congress consider impeachment.