Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has distributed a "Dear Colleague" letter that destroys the already weak case for Senate confirmation of Motley Rice attorney John "Jack" McConnell to the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island. Cornyn charges McConnell with ethical failings, lack of judicial temperament, an anti-business bias and for helping to spread the practice of state-run contingency-fee lawsuits. From the letter (via the Institute for Legal Research):
[Mr. McConnell's] 25-year legal career is surrounded by ethical cloud. As a crusading plaintiff's lawyer, "Mr. McConnell and his firm helped pioneer the practice of soliciting public officials to bring lawsuits in which the private lawyers are paid a percentage of any judgment or settlement." Specifically, Mr. McConnell has helped initiate and direct the litigation of mass tort suits brought by state attorneys general against tobacco and lead -based paint manufacturers. I have long argued that these types of outsourced contingent-fee arrangements are inherently unethical and inevitably lead to the appearance of public corruption. In Texas, for instance, my predecessor as Attorney General served over three years in federal prison for his role in manipulating documents related to a contingent-fee contract and attempting to channel settlement funds to a close friend. While in the private sector contingency fee agreements, though not without controversy, can provide a poor person a key to the courthouse they could not otherwise afford, they have special problems in the public sector. In the public sectors it would be analogous to outsourcing traffic tickets to a private security firm paid by a percentage of the income - no checks, no balances, no exercise of prosecutorial discretion, just a pure profit motive.
More commentary below the fold ...
- Committee for Justice, statement by Executive Director Curt Levey, "Reid Files Cloture on Nominee, Signaling War"
- William Jacobson, Legal Insurrection, "Dems Go To The Filibuster Mat For John J. 'Jack' McConnell, Jr."
- Legal Newsline, "Vote might be coming on controversial judicial nominee"
- Main Justice, "Reid To Try To Force Vote on Controversial District Court Judge"
- BLT, Blog of the Legal Times, "Democrats Push for Vote on Trial Lawyer Judicial Nominee"
- Power Line, "The Case of Jack McConnell"
- Wall Street Journal editorial, April 16, "Painting the Bench Green: A tort kingpin doesn't deserve a federal judgeship."
- SayAnythingBlog, "Possible Pay For Play Scandal Involving North Dakota Democrats Exposed In Judicial Confirmation Process"
For purposes of disclosure: Cornyn's highlights McConnell's contributions to the 2000 gubernatorial campaign of North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, also active in the state tobacco settlement. I was the campaign press secretary for her opponent, John Hoeven. Hoeven won, served as governor for 10 years, and is now U.S. Senator for North Dakota. In looking at campaign contributions that year, it seemed like the South Carolina and Mississippi trial lawyers directed more money to down-ticket races in order to avoid controversy. Or to spread the wealth.