Politics

For Duncan Hunter, Legal Jeopardy — And Legal Fees Jeopardy

Courtroom and legal battles can lead to costly bills for years to come

Alcee L. Hastings testifies at his impeachment trial in 1989. The legal bills he accrued in that decade continue to be part of his financial situation. (Michael Jenkins/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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Let’s pay all the lawyers

Rep. Duncan Hunter has legal problems that could haunt him for years. Not only are he and his wife Margaret facing multiple federal charges alleging they misused campaign funds for personal use, he will have a mounting pile of legal bills along the way.

According to my colleague Paul V. Fontelo, the California Republican has spent more than $600,000 in legal bills, according to his most recent financial disclosure. Add another $25,000 he and Margaret will need to pony up for bail ($15,000 for him, $10,000 for her) and the fact that his court case is likely a ways away, and, well, it all starts to add up. 

Hunter also finds himself in a spot with the legal bills because, according to Roll Call’s Wealth of Congress index, he is one of the poorest members of Congress. For the last five years, for instance, he has claimed no assets, and nothing in a bank account plagued by thousands of dollars in overdraft fees. 

This could end up being a big hole for the 41-year-old congressman to dig himself out of. Consider the case of one of his Democratic House colleagues, Rep. Alcee L. Hastings of Florida. 

Hastings served as a federal district judge from 1979 to 1989, the year he was impeached over allegations of corruption.

Those allegations began in 1981, and lasted over the course of the decade. He was never convicted in a court of law for the crimes he was accused of, taking a bribe in exchange for doling out light sentences. But his case was referred by his judicial peers to Congress for impeachment in 1987. He was impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate in 1989, and removed from the bench. He was elected to the House in 1992. 

The legal battle over his impeachment took its toll. Hastings, now 81 years old, has been saddled with millions of dollars in legal debt ever since his troubles in the 1980s. According to his own most recent financial disclosures, he still owes his lawyers in excess of $2.1 million — nearly 30 years after legal battles ended.

Hunter is young, and he may yet tap — there’s a certain irony here — his own campaign funds to fund a legal defense fund. But Hastings provides a stark example of how financially devastating a protracted legal battle can be. 

This week’s podcast

Political Theater
Political Theater

On this week’s Political Theater podcast, we went through the indictment against Hunter, including where he was spending all that campaign money, including on athletic shorts and booze, with Roll Call’s Katherine Tully-McManus and Inside Elections’ Nathan Gonzales. Of particular interest? Not only is there no way to remove Hunter from the ballot, his indictment might not move the needle much on how competitive his November re-election race is. 

Have a listen:

The kicker

UNITED STATES - JULY 27: Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. celebrates as his teammates ball goes in the hole as Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., left, looks on at hole 7 during the First Tee Congressional Challenge golf tournament at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md., on Monday morning, July 27, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. celebrates as his teammates ball goes in the hole as Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., left, looks on at hole 7 during the First Tee Congressional Challenge golf tournament at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md., on July 27, 2015. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

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