A former inmate of a CCA run prison is protesting a former CCA executive's nomination to a federal judge post:
President Bush in June nominated Gustavus A. Puryear IV, chief lawyer with Corrections Corporation of America, to become a U.S. district judge in Nashville.
That led Alex Friedmann, who spent six years at the company's prison in Clifton, Tenn., to investigate Puryear's qualifications.
According to the article, Friedmann contends that Puryear isn't qualified, having handled only two federal cases in his career as a lawyer, which Friedmann says is only one more than he has tried himself. As a former CCA executive, Puryear also has a conflict of interest presiding over numerous outstanding federal lawsuits against the company according to Friedmann.
According to the article, Puryear is politically connected, having worked for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Sen. Fred Thompson, and Dick Cheney in various capacities.
Friedmann has a website, where he lists several concerns regarding Puryear's nomination. In addition to his lack of litigation experience and his political connections, Friedmann details Puryear's conflict of interest:
Mr. Puryear would have a conflict of interest in regard to all litigation involving CCA, his former employer. This is the strongest argument against his appointment. Puryear's 2006 compensation from CCA included a salary of $237,308 plus $602,957 in "other long term compensation," according to forbes.com. Since Nov. 2006 he has sold shares of CCA stock valued at over $3 million (in January 2008, Puryear reported that he sold 31,100 shares of CCA stock for about $400,000 in profit). In short, CCA has made Puryear a multi-millionaire. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 455, "Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Under this statute, Mr. Puryear presumably would have to disqualify himself from any case involving CCA as a party.
This is significant because according to a federal docket search, over 400 cases naming CCA or CCA executives or staff have been filed in federal court for the Middle District of Tennessee. Since 2000, 260 such cases have been filed. This number includes not only cases involving CCA corporate, but also CCA wardens and company officials such as CEO John Ferguson. At his nomination hearing Mr. Puryear disagreed with the number of cases in which he would have had conflicts of interest; however, he apparently only counted those cases that named CCA as a corporation. He would, of course, equally have conflicts of interest with cases naming CCA executives, wardens and other staff. Having to assign such cases to other judges would be a burden on the federal court system, and would not be an effective use of judicial resources.
At his nomination hearing, Mr. Puryear stated there were only six active cases pending in the Middle District that would require his recusal if he were appointed. Actually, as of Feb. 12, 2008 there were 12 cases in the Middle District pending against CCA or CCA employees. Either Mr. Puryear provided incorrect information to the Senate Judiciary Committee, or he does not know how many cases may require his recusal -- which is his responsibility as CCA's general counsel.
Puryear was introduced at his Senate confirmation hearing by Tennessee's Republican Senators, who gave him glowing recommendations:
U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bob Corker (R-TN) today introduced Nashville attorney Gus Puryear at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Puryear's nomination to be U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee.
"Gus Puryear possesses a strong record of achievement in both the public and private sectors," Alexander said. "He's tried cases in both federal and state courts, he's worked on committees and offices in the U.S. Senate and he's worked on issues in the private sector. I support the president's nomination of this outstanding Tennessean, and I hope the Senate will confirm this well-qualified nominee as quickly as possible."
"I have known Gus Puryear for a number of years, I believe he has great integrity, and I was very pleased to join Sen. Alexander in introducing him today," said Corker. "Gus has experience in many facets of the law, and he is a tremendous asset to his community. He is an accomplished lawyer who would serve the citizens of our state very well as a U.S. district judge, and I hope the Judiciary Committee will bring his confirmation to the Senate floor as soon as possible."
As Mother Jones reports, the confirmation hearings did not proceed as planned:
Puryear was in Washington last week for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Senators Arlen Specter (R.-Pa,) and Dianne Feinstein (D.-Ca.) both put his resume under a microscope, noting his conspicuous lack of trial experience. At one point Specter asked him point blank, "How many cases have you actually tried?" To which Puryear answered: Two. Indeed, according to his written questionnaire for the committee, of the two cases he has tried in the entirety of his legal career, he was lead counsel on one of them. The last time he litigated a case in federal court was more than a decade ago.
Puryear has spent the bulk of his legal career at the Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison company. As its general counsel since 2001, Puryear has made millions of dollars working for a company that profits from the country's incarceration boom, particularly through his recent sale of more than $3 million worth of the company's stock. (His financial disclosure form shows a net worth of more than $13 million.) His employer creates enormous conflicts for Puryear as a potential federal judge, as the CCA gets sued all the time, often in the very district where he hopes to preside as judge. Since 2000, roughly 260 cases have been filed in that court against the CCA, its officers, and subsidiaries.
According to Mother Jones, questions were also raised about the suspicious death of a female inmate at a CCA facility in Nashville. A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide and four CCA guards were indicted although charges were later dropped because a time of death could not be established. Pruyear said in the hearing that the injuries were a result of CPR and resuscitation attempts. Sen. Feinstein was not satisfied with this explanation and asked for more details in a written response.
The full Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet voted on Pruyear's confirmation. According to the Nashville Tennessean, there were too many "red flags" and there will be more questions:
And his answers at his confirmation hearing earlier this month are raising questions among some senators and the state's top medical examiner. What appeared to be a routine confirmation process has suddenly become complicated.
"During that hearing, a lot of red flags were raised," said Erica Chabot, spokeswoman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "You can bet there are some follow-ups."
Senators on the committee were given two weeks to submit additional questions that will be sent to Puryear for written responses.
Republicans complain that Congress is holding up judicial nominations. Perhaps the Bush administration should send them better nominees.