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PAINE ON PROCEDURE
of Judges in
The first judge
impeached (twice) but not convicted was David Campbell. He served on the
Superior Court, predecessor of our Supreme Court. He had been chief justice of
the State of Franklin.
By Donald F. Paine
Judge Campbell got crosswise with John Sevier and William Blount, his former friends and allies, concerning a ruling in a damage suit brought by Blount. In 1798 he was impeached by the House. Blount presided as Senate Speaker — at a time when he was under indictment in Congress.
The first magistrate convicted and removed from office was Judge William Cocke. He was close to Governor Sevier and Judge Campbell. Cocke presided over the First Circuit.
A federal marshal threw him in jail for failing to ante up on a guaranty. One of his impeachable sins was not showing up to preside as judge. Obviously he couldn’t, and the Senate cut him some slack on that article. But they ousted him in 1812 anyway for blatant partiality to a litigant.
My favorite judicial impeachment is that of Nathaniel Williams, the “sleeper,” in 1829. One article alleged that “while an attorney was arguing before him, Judge Williams carelessly, negligently, and unlawfully slept for an hour, and upon waking from his sleep, inquired what suit it was — and being told by said attorney, said he was related to some of the parties and could not sit in that cause.”
This article was dropped, but there were others. On two the vote was for conviction. Twenty senators were members, but only 17 were present. Must the two-thirds constitutional majority take into account all elected senators, or only those voting? The Senate went with the former proposition,1 so Judge Williams escaped removal by one vote.
The last impeachment trial in
Although stripped of his judgeship, Schoolfield was not disqualified by the senate from holding office in the future. A disbarment proceeding took his law license, but in olden days a general sessions judge didn’t need licensure. Consequently, Schoolfield could be — and was — elected sessions judge in
Impeachment of judges is a thing of the past in
1. The decision is odd in light of Article V, Section 2: “No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the senators sworn to try the officer impeached.” The U.S. Constitution at Article I, Section 3, refers to two-thirds of the “members present.”