Halsted L. Ritter

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Halsted Lockwood Ritter (July 14, 1868–October 15, 1951) was an American lawyer and judge. He served in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida but was impeached and removed from office, only the fourth official to be removed.

Early life and education[edit]

Ritter was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1868. His sister was Mary Ritter Beard, the wife of Charles A. Beard; both were noted historians. Halsted Ritter attended DePauw University, receiving his Bachelor of Philosophy in 1891, LL.B. in 1892, and Master of Arts in 1893.

Legal career[edit]

Ritter was in private practice in Indianapolis from 1892 to 1895, in Denver, Colorado from 1895 to 1925. He moved to West Palm Beach, Florida in 1925 for his wife's health.

District court and impeachment[edit]

President Calvin Coolidge nominated Ritter to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida on January 23, 1929, to the seat vacated by Rhydon Mays Call. Confirmed by the Senate on February 15, 1929, he received commission the same day.

On May 29, 1933, U.S. Representative J. Mark Wilcox of Florida introduced resolution (H. Res. 163) authorizing the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Ritter's conduct to "determine whether in the opinion of the committee he had been guilty of any high crime or misdemeanor." The resolution was referred to the Judiciary Committee.

On March 2, 1936, the United States House of Representatives voted to impeach Ritter by 181 votes to 146 on seven articles of impeachment.[1] The proceedings were only the 13th impeachment case in the 147 years of Congress, although it took place just a month after the impeachment of Harold Louderback (who was acquitted in the Senate). The seven articles were:

  • Ordering the payment of "exorbitant" legal fees with intent to embezzle. Specifically, the House managers said Ritter engaged in champerty ("a proceeding whereby a person having no legitimate interest in a lawsuit abets it with money or services in the hope of profit") by "corruptly and unlawfully" receiving $4,500 from a former law partner, Albert L. Rankin. The House charged that Ritter had planned with Rankin and others to put Whitehall (the former Henry Morrison Flagler mansion and then a hotel, and now a museum) into receivership, and had given Rankin an "exorbitant fee" of $75,000, keeping $4,500 of it.
  • Showing favoritism in bankruptcy cases.
  • Two charges of practicing law while a judge.
  • Two charges of tax evasion (by filed false income tax returns in 1929 and 1930)
  • Bringing the judiciary into disrepute (accepting free meals and lodging at Whitehall during receivership proceedings).

Ritter's chief defense attorney was Frank P. Walsh. Three House managers prosecuted the case, with Sam Hobbs of Alabama leading.

On April 6, 1936, the U.S. Senate began its trial. Eleven days after the trial began, the Senate voted to acquit him of all but the last article (bringing the judiciary into disrepute), which he was convicted of 56-28, exactly the two-thirds necessary for conviction under the Constitution, and Ritter was removed from office on April 17, 1936. A motion to disqualify Ritter from all further federal office was defeated unanimously by the Senate.

Ritter challenged the conviction in the federal Court of Claims on the grounds that the Senate could not convict him on a general charge of bringing the judiciary into disrepute if it was not able to convict him of a specific offense. The Court of Claims dismissed the case and held it did not have jurisdiction because the Senate was given the "sole power" to try impeachments under Clause 6, Section 3 of Article I of the United States Constitution.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Associated Press. "Jurist who took $45,000 is to be tried", The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. March 3, 1936. Page A1.

External links[edit]