Harry Eugene Claiborne, the first federal judge to be sent to prison, committed suicide on Jan. 19.
Claiborne received his law degree from Cumberland University and was admitted to the Arkansas and Nevada bars. He spent two years as a deputy district attorney in Las Vegas before going into private practice as one of Nevada’s top defense lawyers. Whenever a celebrity needed legal advice in Las Vegas, the masterful litigator was the person to call. He handled a divorce for Judy Garland and settled casino licensing cases for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
He lost his bid for the Senate in 1964, but his opponent, Senator Howard Cannon, later recommended Claiborne for a federal district court judgeship. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the bench in 1978.
He was serving as the chief U.S. district judge for Nevada in 1984 when he was indicted on bribery, fraud and tax evasion charges. His first trial ended in a hung jury, but he was eventually convicted of fraud for failing to report more than $107,000 on his 1979 and 1980 federal income tax returns. In 1986, he was removed from the bench by the Senate and served 17 months in prison. He was one of only seven federal officials in U.S. history to be removed from office through impeachment.
After his prison term ended, the Nevada Supreme Court reinstated him to the bar and he returned to private practice. Claiborne, who had cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, died of a self-inflicted gunshot. He was 86.