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Senate Convicts U.S. Judge on Perjury Counts : Impeachment: The action strips Walter Nixon of his office. He is the second jurist in two weeks to be removed from the federal bench.

November 04, 1989|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Friday to convict U.S. District Judge Walter L. Nixon Jr. on two counts of perjury and strip him of his lifetime appointment in an impeachment case stemming from a perjury conviction.

The soft-spoken Nixon, 61, became the second judge removed by the Senate by impeachment in two weeks, but only the seventh removed in U.S. history.

"It is, therefore, ordered and adjudged that the said Walter L. Nixon Jr. be removed from office," Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) declared in presiding over the Senate at the close of the proceedings.

The Senate convicted Nixon, 89 to 8, of lying to a federal grand jury when he said he had never talked with a county prosecutor about a marijuana smuggling case involving the son of a wealthy contractor. California's two senators, Democrat Alan Cranston and Republican Pete Wilson, voted for conviction.

The Senate then convicted him, 78 to 19, of lying to the grand jury in his 1984 appearance when he said that he had nothing to do with the marijuana case.

However, the Senate acquitted Nixon on a third and final charge, which alleged that he undermined confidence in the judiciary by lying not only to the grand jury but also to a Justice Department attorney and an FBI agent.

The lawmakers voted, 57 to 40, for guilty, short of the two-thirds needed to convict.

Many senators, in questions during Wednesday's trial, expressed concerns about the broad nature of the final count.

"We fought the fight for 5 1/2 years because we know we are not guilty of anything and don't feel like it," Nixon told reporters outside the Capitol. "We can hold our heads high because we are innocent."

His wife, Barbara, said: "We're just going to go home and start our lives again. It's been 5 1/2 years, so we're ready to get it behind us."

Defense attorney David Stewart put his arm around Nixon as the secretary of the Senate read the list of lawmakers voting guilty. The judge blinked repeatedly and then closed his eyes as the list grew longer and longer.

Nixon was convicted on two counts of perjury in 1986 and sentenced to five years in prison. He began serving the term at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in March, 1988, and was moved to a New Orleans halfway house in July. He is eligible for release this month.

"We have to go home and talk about things and get on with our lives," Nixon said, holding hands with his wife and daughter, Courtney.

Nixon had continued to collect his $89,500 judicial salary while serving his sentence and had expressed hope of returning to the bench. The salary ends with his removal from office.

The Senate's action was taken exactly two weeks after it had removed Alcee L. Hastings from U.S. District Court in Miami on charges of conspiracy to obtain a $150,000 payoff and lying about it to a jury that acquitted him in 1983.

Hastings became the first public official removed from the bench after being acquitted of the offense charged in a criminal trial.

Nixon was convicted on charges of lying when he told the federal grand jury he did not discuss the marijuana case with Paul Holmes, then district attorney of Forrest County, Miss., and an old friend.

A defendant in the case was Drew Fairchild, a manager of the Hattiesburg, Miss., airport and the son of wealthy contractor Wylie Fairchild.

Investigators later found that the elder Fairchild had helped Nixon obtain a highly profitable oil and gas investment, but the judge was acquitted of receiving an illegal gratuity.

Nixon contends that he was the victim of witnesses who lied and overzealous prosecutors who held him to unreasonably high standards of accuracy in his grand jury testimony. He admitted making a few slips but he characterized them as honest forgetfulness.

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