IMPEACHMENT OF G. THOMAS PORTEOUS, JR., JUDGE OF THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
(See original document (130 pp.) for voluminous notes and other pertinent
information about Judge Porteous)
D. Judge Porteous's Relationship with Richard Chopin and Acceptance of Hunting Trips from Diamond Offshore
1. Attorney Richard Chopin
Attorney Richard Chopin was a friend of Judge Porteous for years. They first met when they taught trial advocacy at Louisiana State University Law School.586 They were perceived by others to be friends.587
Chopin wrote a letter to Second Circuit Judge Ralph Winter, dated March 28, 2008, supportive of Judge Porteous, in which Chopin described Judge Porteous as an "outstanding judge" and among "one of finest judges before whom I have ever appeared." He stated he had never "heard, seen or experienced any impropriety in Judge Porteous'[s] conduct" and characterized the allegations against Judge Porteous as having the appearance of a "witch hunt." Letter from Richard A. Chopin, Esq., to Hon. Ralph K. Winter, March 28, 2008 Chopin Dep. Ex. 58 (Ex. 258). Chopin also solicited other attorneys to write letters in support of Judge Porteous. Chopin Dep. at 70-71 (Ex. 182); Chopin Dep. Ex. 59 (Ex. 259).
Chopin testified that he took Judge Porteous out to lunch, but he stated that Judge Porteous reciprocated.588 Chopin also testified that Judge Porteous would have used a credit card to charge meals at expensive restaurants in the period subsequent to Judge Porteous filing for bankruptcy and when Judge Porteous was under court-ordered restrictions from incurring new debt.589
2. Diamond Offshore
Diamond Offshore ("Diamond") is an oil rig company with headquarters in Houston, Texas, that has been sued on occasion as a result of injuries to others or damage to property that occurs in the operation of Diamond's rigs. If the injuries or damages occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, the civil suits were frequently brought in the Eastern District of Louisiana, and would occasionally be assigned to Judge Porteous. Chopin was frequently retained by Diamond to defend the company in litigation.
3. 2000-2007Judge Porteous Accepts Six Hunting Trips From Diamond
Diamond owned or leased a hunting property in Texas that it used for entertainment purposes. In the late 1990's, Diamond arranged a hunting trip for attorneys and others in the claims management part of the business. Chopin was invited, and, according to a Diamond employee who had some responsibility for the trips, Chopin, in turn, recommended that Diamond invite Judge Porteous.590
The documentary evidence confirms that Diamond perceived Chopin to be associated with Judge Porteous in connection with these trips. In connection with Judge Porteous's attendance on the 2001 trip, the communications from Diamond to Judge Porteous concerning that trip stated that Judge Porteous could provide his information to Chopin and that Chopin would act as an intermediary.591
Judge Porteous went on six Diamond-sponsored hunting trips. These occurred in early January in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2007. In each of these 6 years, Chopin was also present. Diamond documents reflect that Judge Porteous and Chopin shared a room on at least the 2005 and 2006 trips.592
In connection with the hunting trips, Diamond paid all of Judge Porteous's expenses. Diamond flew Judge Porteous, Chopin and others from New Orleans to the hunting facility in Texas. It provided air transportation (including by private aircraft), meals, lodging, and an open bar, and paid for hunting licenses if necessary. If the guest shot a deer, the deer would be cleaned and butchered, and the processed meat sent to the guest.593 The only expense a guest was required to cover was the cost of mounting a deer head if this service was requested.
4. Specific Cases Assigned to Judge Porteous Involving Diamond and/or Chopin
Notwithstanding the fact that Judge Porteous had started in January 2000 to attend all-expense-paid, high-end hunting trips sponsored by Diamond, he continued to preside over litigation in which Diamond was a named defendant, without disclosing his receipt of Diamond trips.594
The Diamond cases in front of Judge Porteous (since he first started attending the Diamond hunting trips) include: Sylve v. Oceaneering Int'l, Inc., British Borneo Exploration, and Diamond Offshore Drilling, Inc. was filed March 1999.595
Even though Diamond was a named defendant, any liability on Diamond's part would have been covered by an insurance policy. The insurance company (Oceaneering International) was thus responsible for managing the defense. However, Diamond was not dismissed from the case. Diamond took Judge Porteous hunting in January 2000, while the case was pending and 2 months prior to trial. Trial commenced March 13, 2000, and the parties settled on March 14, 2000.
Boothe v. Diamond Offshore Mgt. was filed February 20, 2001.596 Diamond was represented by Chopin. This case was filed about a month after Judge Porteous had attended his second Diamond hunting trip with Chopin in January 2001. A year later, in February 2002, the case was reassigned from Judge Porteous to Judge Jay C. Zainey.
Johnson v. Diamond Offshore was filed in September 2003 and was pending until March 2005.597 Diamond was represented by Chopin until August 2004, at which time Chopin was replaced by another attorney. In January 2005, during the case's pendency, Judge Porteous went on his fourth Diamond hunting trip. In this case, as with the Sylve case above, Diamond was indemnified by a third party. The case settled.
Jones v. Diamond Offshore was filed March 31, 2004 and was resolved in June 2006.598 In January 2005, during the pendency of the case, Judge Porteous went on his fourth Diamond hunting trip. In 2006, the case was reassigned from Judge Porteous to Judge Carl Barbier and settled for a modest amount.
Although Judge Porteous did not end up presiding over jury or non-jury trials involving Diamond, and was not otherwise significantly involved in determinations as to the liability of Diamond, in none of these four cases were the plaintiffs or their attorneys made aware that Judge Porteous had gone on hunting trips paid for by Diamond.
One additional case, Farrar v. Diamond Offshore,599 deserves specific mention. Diamond was represented by Chopin in a personal injury case brought by plaintiff Farrar alleging negligence. The case was filed in March 20032 months after Judge Porteous had taken his third Diamond hunting trip (also attended by Chopin). The parties settled in April 2004 on terms acceptable to plaintiff's counsel, Peter Koeppel. However, Koeppel's observations illustrate the consequences of Judge Porteous's failure to disclose his relationship with both Diamond and Chopin.
After testifying that he was unaware that
Judge Porteous had gone on one or more hunting trips paid for
by Diamond and attended by Diamond's counsel, Koeppel testified
that if he had known of that fact, he would have felt