WASHINGTON — A House panel recommended today that imprisoned federal Judge Harry E. Claiborne be removed from office because he falsified his tax returns and violated his oath of office.
The House Judiciary subcommittee on courts voted 15 to 0 on an overall resolution to impeach Claiborne, the chief U.S. district judge for Nevada.
The vote followed passage of four individual articles of impeachment--three of them approved by voice vote and a fourth by a tally of 9-5.
The recommendation now goes to the full Judiciary Committee.
Refusing to quit his lifetime position, Claiborne continues to collect his $78,700 annual salary at the minimum-security federal prison camp in Montgomery, Ala.
Although he is serving a two-year sentence, the 68-year-old judge can be removed from the bench only by impeachment--the constitutional power given Congress to remove federal officials.
The articles approved by voice vote said Claiborne:
--"Willfully and knowingly" filed a tax return for 1979 which he "did not believe to be true and correct." The return reported income of $80,227 when Claiborne "well knew and believed he received and failed to report substantial income in addition to that stated."
--Filed a similar false return for 1980, which reported income of $54,251, while the judge knew the figure was higher.
--Was found guilty of those charges by a federal jury and sentenced to two years in prison.
Approved 9-5 was an impeachment article contending that Claiborne "has violated his oath of office and reduced confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, thereby bringing disrepute on the federal courts and the administration of justice. . . ."
In urging approval of impeachment articles before the votes, subcommittee chairman Robert W. Kastenmeier (D-Wis.) said the action was "precedent-setting" because, for the first time, "a convicted and incarcerated federal judge is the subject of an impeachment inquiry."
Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ky.) said it is a "public scandal" that Claiborne "continues to draw (his salary) while sitting in the slammer in Alabama."
And Rep. Michael DeWine (R-Ohio) added that since Claiborne has a lifetime appointment, "there is no other remedy to deal with this particular problem" than impeachment.
House approval would bring on a Senate impeachment trial, with the maximum penalty being removal from office and a ban on holding any future federal position.
Claiborne's attorney, Oscar Goodman, has said that the judge will not resign and promised a "no-holds-barred" trial before the Senate if the proceeding goes that far.
Goodman said last week that if any mistake was made on the judge's tax returns, it was done by the tax preparer, not the judge.