judicial nomination of CCA general counsel Gus Puryear!
Read the January 22, 2009 press release, here.
With Mr. Puryear's nomination dead under the Obama administration, other candidates
will be considered, according to this article.
AP National Wire story casts doubt on chances for Mr. Puryear's
Please click here.
The Associated Press thus joins the Tennessean, the Nashville Scene and the Nashville Post in casting doubt on Mr. Puryear's judicial nomination.
Who is Gus Puryear?
background includes the following: He
J.D. degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1993; served as a law clerk to Judge Barksdale for the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1993-1994; worked as an associate attorney for the Farris, Warfield & Kanaday law firm from 1994-1997 (now Stites & Harbison); served as counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 1997-1998; worked as the legislative director for Senator Bill Frist from 1998-2000; and was hired by CCA
as general counsel in 2001.
He also serves on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, and is on the board of Nashville Bank & Trust.
Why object to his
He's CCA's general counsel and would hold a judgeship in the same district where CCA's corporate office is located, where numerous lawsuits against CCA are filed.
has very little experience in the federal courts; during his
time at CCA he
has worked to conceal damaging information about the company, and has belittled prisoner litigation.
is further a member of a blatantly discriminatory country club, and has made misleading statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee
concerning the death of a prisoner at a CCA facility.
1. Mr. Puryear
would have a conflict of interest in regard to all litigation involving CCA, his
This is a strong argument against his
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 short, CCA
has made Puryear
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
would have to disqualify himself from any case involving CCA, CCA subsidiaries or CCA employees as parties.
nomination hearing Mr. Puryear
disputed 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.
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 court and would not be an effective use of judicial resources.
nomination hearing, Mr. Puryear
stated there were only six active cases pending in the Middle District that would require his
recusal if he
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
did not know how many cases would require his
recusal -- which is his
responsibility as CCA's general counsel.
A list of the active cases involving CCA as of Feb. 12, 2008 is available here.
Lack of Qualifications and Trial / Litigation Experience
2. Although Mr. Puryear served as a judicial clerk, his time spent in active litigation as a trial lawyer has been scanty.
spent only three years working for a Nashville law firm.
One of the attorneys at that firm stated that Puryear
was hired right out of law school as a "young lawyer," and mainly assisted other attorneys.
According to federal court records, Puryear
has been listed as counsel of record in 130 cases in U.S. District Court in Tennessee during his
legal career, which certainly sounds impressive.
However, an examination of each of those case dockets reveals the following:
85 cases were dismissed by the court without service on the defendants; Puryear
39 cases were handled by another law firm or attorney; Puryear
was not directly involved.
1 case was answered by Puryear
sent a letter saying the defendant had died.
5 cases included Puryear's personal involvement; all were from 1994 to 1998.
Thus, according to the federal court dockets, and by Mr. Puryear's
own admission, he
has been actively involved in only five federal cases over his
entire legal career, and only two cases that went to trial -- most recently 10 years ago.
In one of only two cases he
has taken to a jury trial (which he
lost), Mr. Puryear's
client sought to have him removed from the case, twice.
was less than candid when he
role in that case to the Senate Judiciary Committee
, as detailed in this letter. (includes documents from the original case file)
has authored only one published law journal article, in 1992.
qualifications for a federal judgeship are not based on his
extensive knowledge as a trial attorney, nor on his
litigation experience or academic credentials.
Nor is his ABA
ranking noteworthy (see below).
What, then, are his
qualifications for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench?
The American Bar Association
(ABA) ranks federal judicial candidates as Well Qualified, Qualified, or Not Qualified.
The vast majority of judicial nominees are rated Well Qualified.
During the 110th Congress
, for example, 102 judicial nominees were rated by the ABA; of those, 79 were rated Well Qualified (about 77%).
The remaining 23, including Mr. Puryear
, were rated Qualified.
The ratings are available here.
Thus, Mr. Puryear
was ranked in the BOTTOM 23%
judicial nominee peers.
Puryear is a dedicated Republican supporter, having previously worked under Republican Senators Bill Frist and Fred Thompson.
The Nashville Post
referred to Mr. Puryear
as a "Republican heavyweight."
Both Senators Alexander and Corker have strongly supported Mr. Puryear's nomination; however, they have not acknowledged that Puryear and CCA have made significant donations to their political campaigns.
Still, federal judges, who are supposed to be impartial, should not be as blatantly partisan as reflected by Mr. Puryear's
record, irrespective of party.
Political payback should not be the basis for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.
That goes for Democrat nominees, too.
Much has been made of a letter from David Randolph Smith, a Democrat and plaintiff's attorney in a suit filed against CCA by Estelle Richardson's family (see below), which endorses Mr. Puryear's nomination.
A number of other attorneys have voiced support for Puryear
, too, as has Thurgood Marshall, Jr.
What do they have in common?
The answer is here, though it will likely come as no surprise.
Not Acting in the Public Interest
4. As CCA's general counsel, Mr. Puryear has actively worked to hide damaging information about the company from the public, including from governmental agencies that contract with the company.
Such actions are antithetical to the ethical qualities that should be displayed by a federal judge.
There are several examples that can be cited.
Following a hostage-taking at CCA
's Bay County, Florida jail in 2004, which resulted in a prisoner and a nurse hostage being shot by a SWAT team member, CCA refused to release an after-action report related to the incident.
arranged to have a private law firm provide the report to protect CCA
from liability, and stated the report would never become a public record.
This was reported in the News Herald on Nov. 14, 2004.
A copy of the article is archived here (search for "Puryear" on the page).
Notably, reports by Bay County officials and Florida state officials related to the same incident are public records.
In 2005 CCA's
quality assurance division was placed under the company's legal department, so that internal quality assurance reports would not be subject to public record laws.
By designating such reports as "attorney client privileged" they could be kept secret, for in-house use only.
Of course Mr. Puryear
was "just doing his
job" as CCA's lawyer; however, deliberately withholding information from the public is not the kind of behavior we want or need in a federal judicial candidate.
has been implicated in a scheme where CCA
allegedly withheld information