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The Impeachment Trial of Harry E. Claiborne (1986)                 U.S. District Judge, Nevada


Chapter 1: Brief History of the Case
Chapter 2: Chronology
Chapter 3: Votes
Chapter 4: Senate Impeachment Trial Committee
Chapter 5: House Managers and Trial Staff
Chapter 6: Defense Team
Chapter 7: Procedural Issues and Precedents
Chapter 8: Articles of Impeachment

Brief History of the Case

In 1984, district judge Harry E. Claiborne was convicted for falsifying his income tax returns and sentenced to two years in prison. In 1986, Claiborne was impeached by the House of Representatives and tried and convicted by the Senate, thereby removing him from office and terminating his judicial salary. This was the first instance in which the Senate tried an impeached official who had already been convicted in a criminal court.

When Claiborne entered prison on March 16, 1986, he did so with the intention of returning to the bench in two years’ time. He did not resign his judiciary post, and continued to receive his salary of $78,700 a year. This placed the U.S. Congress is a difficult position. Clearly, Claiborne was no longer fit for office, and yet the Constitution allowed only one method for removing a federal judge–impeachment. 

Whether or not tax fraud rose to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors," or whether a convicted felon could be allowed to remain on the federal bench, were not questions discussed at great length. After only a few hours of debate, the House Judiciary Committee reported articles of impeachment. Four articles were passed unanimously by the full House on July 22, 1986. The Senate received those articles on August 6, 1986. 

Rather than convening the entire Senate into a High Court of Impeachment, the Senate agreed that evidence in the Claiborne impeachment trial would be heard, first, by a 12-member panel created for that purpose. Acting upon a Senate rule adopted in 1935, but never used, the Senate Impeachment Trial Committee examined evidence and heard testimony before reporting its findings to the full Senate on October 7, 1986. Sitting as a Court of Impeachment, the Senate heard closing arguments, including an argument by defense that the use of a trial committee was unconstitutional, then voted on October 9, 1986, to convict Judge Harry Claiborne on all four articles of impeachment.

The vote on the third article of impeachment held particular significance for the history of impeachment trials. Article 3 essentially stated that Claiborne’s conviction by a jury trial in the district court proved that he was guilty of “misbehavior” and “high crimes.” With a vote of 46 to 17 (35 voted “present”), Article 3 was the only article not to achieve the required two-thirds majority for conviction. In voting down this article, senators expressed concern that adoption might set a troublesome precedent: by declaring that a court conviction was automatic grounds for conviction in an impeachment trial, the reverse situation—an acquittal in a court trial—might require an automatic acquittal in an impeachment trial. 

The historical importance of the Claiborne case came not in the debate over his guilt or innocence, which had been decided in a court of law, but in the procedural precedents set in the impeachment trial, particularly in the first use of a Senate trial committee. 


Chronology
July 25, 1978 President Jimmy Carter nominated Claiborne to the federal bench.
December 8, 1983 Claiborne indicted by federal grand jury for income tax evasion, bribery, and filing false ethics reports.
August 10, 1984 Claiborne found guilty in U.S. District Court of Nevada for tax evasion; fined $10,000 and sentenced to two years in prison.
March 16, 1986 Claiborne began serving his prison sentence in a federal prison at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
May 22, 1986 Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R, WI) called for impeachment.
June 3, 1986 Rep. Peter Rodino (D, NJ) introduced H.Res 461, calling for impeachment of imprisoned Harry Claiborne. Resolution was referred to House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice.
July 22, 1986 House approved unanimously, 406 to 0, four articles of impeachment.
July 25, 1986 Senate Rules Committee met to draft rules for impeachment trial.
August 6, 1986 House presented articles of impeachment to the Senate.
August 12, 1986 Senate Rules Committee approved revisions of Senate impeachment rules.
August 14, 1986 Senate established procedures for impeachment trial,including approving S. Res. 481 providing for the use of trial committee to hear evidence.
September 15, 1986 Senate Impeachment Trial Committee began seven days of hearings before television cameras in the Senate Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building Judge Claiborne and defense attorney Oscar Goodman attended.
September 30, 1986 Trial Committee presented its report to the Senate.
October 7, 1986 Senate, sitting as High Court of Impeachment, heard arguments, then deliberated in closed sessions.
October 9, 1986 Senate convicted Judge Claiborne.
Closed Sessions (Full Senate):
October 7 (two sessions), 8, and 9, 1986

 

Votes

Votes on Articles:

Article 1: 87 guilty; 10 not guilty

Article 2: 90 guilty; 7 not guilty

Article 3: 46 guilty; 17 not guilty

Article 4: 89 guilty;  8 not guilty

 

Vote for Removal and/or Disqualification:

No separate vote.


Senate Impeachment Trial Committee

Charles McC. Mathias, Jr. (R, Maryland), chairman

Paul S. Sarbanes (D, Maryland), vice chairman

Orrin G. Hatch (R, Utah)

John W. Warner (R, Virginia)

Warren B. Rudman (R, New Hampshire)

Larry Pressler (R, South Dakota)

Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky)

Howell Heflin (D, Alabama)

Dennis DeConcini (D, Arizona)

David Pryor (D, Arkansas)

Albert Gore, Jr. (D, Tennessee)

Jeff Bingaman (D, New Mexico)

 

House Managers and Trial Staff

House Managers:

Peter W. Rodino, Jr. (D, New Jersey)

Robert W. Kastenmeier (D, Wisconsin)

William J. Hughes (D, New Jersey)

Romano L. Mazzoli (D, Kentucky)

Dan Glickman (D, Kansas)

Hamilton Fish, Jr. (R, New York)

Henry J. Hyde (R, Illinois)

Thomas N. Kindness (R, Ohio)

Michael DeWine (R, Ohio)

House Impeachment Trial Staff:

Nicholas D. Chabraja, Special Counsel

David W. DeBruin, Associate Special Counsel


Defense Team

Oscar B. Goodman, chief attorney

Hon. Howard W. Cannon

David Chesnoff

Michael Stuhff

Timothy Cory

Linda Rogers

Allan Cannon


Procedural Issues and Precedents
  • Senate had to vote on pretrial motions, one presented by the House asking for immediate conviction and removal based upon Claiborne's criminal conviction, and the second presented by Claiborne's counsel asking for complete dismissal, stating the House had not charged the judge with an impeachable offense.
  • First time impeached official was currently serving a prison term.
  • First use of Senate Impeachment Trial Committee, Impeachment Rule XI.
  • September 17, 1986, Senate adopted a rule allowing each senator to ask his question in the trial committee proceedings, rather than submitting his/her question in writing to the chair.

 

Articles of Impeachment

ARTICLE 1.That Judge Harry E. Claiborne, having been nominated by the President of the United States, and while serving as a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, was and is guilty of misbehavior and of high crimes and misdemeanors in office in a manner and form as follows:

On or about June 15, 1980, Judge Harry E. Claiborne did willfully and knowingly make and subscribe a United States Individual Income Tax Return for the calendar year 1979, which return was verified by a written declaration that the return was made under penalties of perjury; which return was filed with the Internal Revenue Service; and which return Judge Harry E. Claiborne did not believe to be true and correct as to every material matter in that the return reported total income in the amount of $80,227.04 whereas, as he then and there well knew and believed, he received and failed to report substantial income in addition to that stated on the return in violation of section 7206(1) of title 26, United States Code.

The facts set forth in the foregoing paragraph were found beyond a reasonable doubt by a twelve-person jury in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.

Wherefore, Judge Harry E. Claiborne was and is guilty of misbehavior and was and is guilty of a high crime and misdemeanor and, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office.

 

ARTICLE 2. That Judge Harry E. Claiborne, having been nominated by the President of the United States, confirmed by the Senate of the United States, and while serving as a judge of the United States Court for the District of Nevada, was and is guilty of misbehavior and of high crimes and misdemeanors in office in a manner and form as follows:

On or about June 15, 1981, Judge Harry E. Claiborne did willfully and knowingly make and subscribe a United States Individual Income Tax Return for the calendar year 1980, which return was verified by a written declaration that the return was made under penalties of perjury; which return was filed with the Internal Revenue Service; and which return Judge Harry E. Claiborne did not believe to be true and correct as to every material matter in that the return reported total income in the amount of $54,251 whereas, as he then and there well knew and believed, [h]e received and failed to report substantial income in addition to that stated on the return in violation of section 7206(1) of title 26, United States Code.

The facts set forth in the foregoing paragraph were found beyond a reasonable doubt by a twelve-person jury in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.

Wherefore, Judge Harry E. Claiborne was and is guilty of misbehavior and was and is guilty of a high crime and misdemeanor and, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office.

 

ARTICLE 3. That Judge Harry E. Claiborne having been nominated by the President of the United States, confirmed by the Senate of the United States, and while serving as a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, was and is guilty of misbehavior and of high crimes in office in a manner and form as follows:

On August 10, 1984, in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, Judge Harry E. Claiborne was found guilty by a twelve-person jury of making and subscribing a false income tax return for the calendar years 1979 and 1980 in violation of section 7206(1) of title 26, United States Code, and a sentence of two years imprisonment for each violation was imposed, to be served concurrently, together with a fine of $5000 for each violation.

Wherefore, Judge Harry E. Claiborne was and is guilty of misbehavior and was and is guilty of high crimes.

 

ARTICLE 4. That Judge Harry E. Claiborne, having been nominated by the President of the United States, confirmed by the Senate of the United States, and while serving as a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, was and is guilty of misbehavior and of misdemeanors in office in a manner and form as follows:

Judge Harry E. Claiborne took the oath for the office of judge of the United States and is required to discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on him and to uphold and obey the Constitution and laws of the United States.

Judge Harry E. Claiborne, by virtue of his office, is required to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and to perform the duties of his office impartially.

Judge Harry E. Claiborne, by willfully and knowingly falsifying his income on his Federal tax returns for 1979 and 1980, has betrayed the trust of the people of the United States and reduced confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, thereby bringing disrepute on the Federal courts and the administration of justice by the courts.

Wherefore, Judge Harry E. Claiborne was and is guilty of misbehavior and was and is guilty of misdemeanors and, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office.    



 
  

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