It will be exactly six years tomorrow that a federal judged was ousted from office by impeachment. It so happens that it was a Louisiana judge, Thomas Porteous of New Orleans, a Bill Clinton appointee, was removed by vote of the U.S. Senate on Dec. 8, 2010, for taking bribes and making false statements under oath.
Porteous is the only federal judge among the 15 who have been removed by impeachment who was from Louisiana.
Could it now be that a second Louisiana judge, an appointee of Clinton’s successor, may face a similar fate? Well, no one has gone so far as to suggest that just yet, but the rumor mill about U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi’s reported drinking problems is at full throttle in the Lake Charles area.
One of the grounds for impeachment of federal judges, who are appointed for life, is intoxication on the bench and two have been removed for that reason, the most recent almost 150 years ago.
The first was John Pickering, an appointee of George Washington, who was impeached and removed in 1803 for mental instability and intoxication on the bench. The other was and Abraham Lincoln appointee, Mark Delahay, likewise removed in 1873 for intoxication on the bench.
It is important to explain the difference between an official’s being impeached and removed. Impeachment is simply the bringing of formal charges against an officeholder. He is then tried by the U.S. Senate and that body’s vote of guilty or not guilty determines if the accused is removed from office.
In the case of the charges against Porteous, senators voted guilty unanimously—96-0—for his failure to recuse himself in a case involving a former law partner with whom he was accused of trading favors for cash. On the charge of accepting meals, trips and car repair from a bail bondsman, the vote was 69-27 in favor of conviction. The Senate then voted 94-2 that he should be disqualified from ever again holding federal office.
LouisianaVoice has received reports that Minaldi, a federal judge for the Western District of Louisiana in Lake Charles had a criminal case over which she was the presiding judge REMOVED following a series of procedural errors, including assigning some of her duties to a prosecuting attorney.
A native of Somerset, Massachusetts, she is a 1980 graduate of Wesleyan University and a 1983 graduate of Tulane University Law School.
From 1983 to 1986, she served as an assistant district attorney of New Orleans before accepting a similar post at the 14th Judicial District in Lake Charles until 1996, when she became a state district judge in the same district.
She was nominated for a federal judgeship by President George W. Bush on January 15, 2003. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 6 and assumed office three days later, succeeding Judge James Trimble when Trimble reached senior status.
As federal judge, she dismissed a case in 2009 against a man who mailed anthrax and bomb threats following 9/11. The man had been convicted by a federal jury in 2004 on charges of threatening to use weapons of mass destructions but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction and his 30-year prison sentence in April 2009.
She was arrested on January 23, 2014, for having an open alcoholic beverage inside her vehicle and less than a month later, on February 14, she was charged with DWI. She refused a field sobriety test but ultimately pleaded guilty to DWI.
One source, an attorney, said Minaldi has been appearing on the bench intoxicated and unable to perform her duties. On at least one such occasion, the attorney said, the case was removed from her court and transferred to the federal court in Alexandria.
“I’ve heard the stories,” said another. “We all have. In our professional circle, it would impossible not to hear them. There were a lot of questions about a criminal case that was removed from her courtroom.
In fact, Judge Minaldi has been pulled off several cases this year, the latest of which occurred just yesterday.
ASSOCIATED PRESS reported that the trial of a man accused of producing kiddie porn and of crossing state lines to have sex with a minor was cut short less than an hour after court convened with no reason provided for the mistrial.
The only clue, and a sketchy one at that, was in the form of a single-page order from Chief Judge Dee Drell that he was “exercising (his) prerogative” in terminating proceedings. That trial is scheduled to resume on Jan. 3 in Alexandria.
In that case, Frankie Maldonado is the defendant. His attorney, Randal McCann, as well as the prosecuting attorney, have not commented on the sudden unexpected termination of Maldonado’s trial.
Nor has Judge Minaldi commented on the chief judge’s actions or of reports about her alleged problem with alcohol. LouisianaVoice attempted to contact her by telephone but was told she was not in her office. So far, she has not responded to our request that she return our call.
The biggest case pulled from Judge Minaldi—again, after trial proceedings were underway—was that of Iberia Parish Sheriff LOUIS ACKEL, accused of beating prisoners in his jail. His trial was moved to Shreveport and he was subsequently acquitted.
A third attorney contacted by LouisianaVoice was more circumspect than the others. “Let me say this,” the attorney said. “I personally like Judge Minaldi and when she’s okay, she’s a good judge. She’s very personable and a likable person. I knew she had a problem at one time but did not know she’d started drinking again. That’s very unfortunate.”