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Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Most Important Judicial Nomination You Never Heard Of Set For Vote Today

I previously posted about the nomination of John J. "Jack" McConnell, Jr. to the federal district court in Rhode Island.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote today. The Providence Journal sums up the controversy over McConnell, a mass-tort lawyer who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democrats, including the two Rhode Island Senators who nominated him and other Senators who will vote on the nomination:

A major business group has stepped up its opposition to President Obama’s nomination of John J. McConnell Jr. to the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, calling him “unfit to serve this lifetime appointment to the federal bench.”

On the eve of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s debate on the McConnell nomination, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce alerted senators that their votes on whether to seat him could become part of the organization’s influential scorecard on members of Congress.

“Mr. McConnell’s actions during his career as a personal injury lawyer and past statements demonstrate his disregard for the rule of law, an activist judicial philosophy and obvious bias against businesses,” R. Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s chief lobbyist, said in a letter Tuesday to committee members that was released Wednesday morning....

The consideration of McConnell’s nomination is playing out against a partisan backdrop. The Providence lawyer, 51, is a longtime state Democratic official, a major contributor to the party and a leading plaintiffs’ lawyer. He has given more than $432,000 to federal election campaigns over the years, including those of Whitehouse and Jack Reed. That appears to make him the top donor to federal campaigns among the nearly 1,500 nominees to U.S. courts since 1988. Only three other nominees during those years appear to have given as much as $100,000, according to a Providence Journal analysis of federal contributions. McConnell is also a major Rhode Island philanthropist.

McConnell's law firm has refused to disclose records requested by the Ocean State Policy Research Institute regarding whether the firm improperly allocated settlement monies in a lead paint lawsuit to pay off the firm's charitable pledge to a hospital (see my prior post). The details of the document request and the need for the documents are set forth in a letter OSPRI sent to the Judiciary Committee yesterday.

The Republican Party in Rhode Island has questioned the circumstances of the payment to McConnell's firm:
[T]he chairman of the Rhode Island State Republican Party, Giovanni D. Cicione, has asked the Rhode Island Bar Association to launch an inquiry into a settlement that McConnell's firm negotiated with one of the corporations involved in the state's long-running lawsuit against manufacturers of lead paint. Cicione questioned the propriety of the transfer of a portion of that settlement to a Boston hospital, as a charitable gift. McConnell has told the Judiciary Committee that the gift was proper.
The vote is set for this morning. There is no question that the nomination will get out of committee given the Democratic majority. What if anything Republicans will do to stop the nomination after that point remains to be seen.

Update: At the hearing this morning, Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke at length in opposition to the nomination. Sessions mentioned numerous instances of McConnell and his firm rewarding politicians with campaign contributions after receiving state business, and how McConnell publicly rebuked the Rhode Island Supreme Court in very unflattering terms after the Court threw out McConnell's landmark lead paint lawsuit (which was started when Whitehouse was Attorney General).

In defense of McConnell, Sheldon Whitehouse accused opponents of McConnell of attempting to "smear" McConnell. Whitehouse, as usual, changed the subject and engaged in a lengthy lecture making it seem as if anyone who opposed McConnell was against the jury system and our entire system of justice.

John Cornyn (R-Tx) stated that he opposed the nomination, taking Whitehouse to task (my paraphrase) because while it was not necessary to be pro-business to get on the bench, it was necessary not to be anti-business. Cornyn mentioned how McConnell repeatedly over the years has made inflammatory political statements, including several examples, and specifically mentioned the OSPRI records request.

The final vote was 13-6 in favor. Since there are 7 Republicans on the Committee, one of them voted yes, but I could not hear the rollcall, so I'll update when I get the vote breakdown. (Added: Lindsay Graham (R-SC) voted in favor>)

Update No. 2: In case the issue of the donation to the hospital is not clear, here is the scenario:

McConnell's firm settled a RI lead paint case for the State of RI with a defendant who would not settle if McConnell's firm received any part of the settlement. So McConnell's firm waived any fee, and the settlement agreement provided for a donation to be made to a hospital in Massachusetts in lieu of McConnell's fee. But the donation then was applied by the hospital to a debt owed by McConnell's firm (based on a prior pledge by the firm), so that the settlement monies did go for the benefit McConnell's firm, contrary to the intent of the settlement. If this is in fact what happened, the settling defendant could contend that by failing to disclose that the donation would be used to extinguish a debt owed by McConnell's firm, the defendant was defrauded into entering into the settlement. (Separately, other defendants continued to fight the case, and it was thrown out by the RI Supreme Court.)

This is why the OSPRI document request under the RI Open Records law is so important, because it would provide the documentation to prove or disprove potentially serious allegations involving McConnell's conduct.

I'm not prepared yet to conclude that McConnell did anything wrong, but there certainly are enough questions that the nomination should not go to a vote until the matter is thoroughly vetted.

Related Posts:
Will Obama Really Fight For This Judicial Nominee?
How Much Does A Federal Judgeship Cost? $432,000

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  1. So let me see if I get this straight - a corrupt, politically active "progressive" bribed his way into a judicial appointment in an administration loaded with political thugs and hacks from Chicago.

    That doesn't even sound like a story - clearly not surprising and in no way "man bites dog".

    If that's the only outrageous thing that the barack hussein obama regime does today -- it's a slow day.

  2. Wow, it sounds like the biggest complaint they have against this guy is that he is a democrat and a lawyer who fights for his clients.

    Would the Chamber of Commerce be happy if their were no law firms that fought for the interests of it's business clients? Aren't they really just upset because this man has been successful fighting to hold businesses accountable for the damage they have done to average people in Rhode Island?

    The Chamber of Commerce will not be happy until the right of average citizens to have a trial by jury is stripped away from them. That way corporations can put profits ahead of people without consequence.

    And this whole "pledge" argument is crap. They said they would donate money to a hospital. They had a defendant who would not settle if the law firm profited. The two parties found a way to benefit a hospital and settle a case in a way that both parties could agree on. The argument that somehow the law firm profited by having the company donate to the hospital is ludicrous. A pledge is not a contract and there would have been no consequences to the law firm if for whatever reason they could not fulfill the pledge. They found a creative way to do so while ending a case in a way that was palatable to both parties. Good for them.

    I will just end with this comment. Is this website willing to go on the record and say that people who donate money to a party should not be a judge? If that is the case, half of the conservative judiciary should be impeached. Is this website willing to go on the record and say that those types of donations are bad? If so, let's restrict corporations from donating lots of money.

    Don't smear this man because you don't agree with his politics. The hypocrisy is just ridiculous.

  3. caretaker22
    Do you feel like arguing against anything other than that complete strawman of yours? Maybe you should respond to the points in Jacobson's post instead of making up assertions as you go.

    Or are you just a sockpuppet for Whitehouse, since your "argument" sounds just the same as his; irrelevant as well as false.

  4. Mike is very likely correct when he suggests caretaker22 is nothing more than a sock puppet. It is clear caretakeeper22 has more than a casual interest in McConnell and the law firm. So, why won't caretaker22 actually identify himself?

  5. I didn't know about this nominee until I read this blog. The whole thing just sounds like partisan noise. Democrats do the same thing; now, it's the GOP's turn. The sketchy details of the hospital deal do not prove any wrongdoing; I would be inclined to view the situation with suspicion if the plaintiff who settled came forward to complain. Instead, a third-party is complaining. It is unclear that the firm is obligated to release information to the research institute. This is really about business interests. But the Constitution delegates judicial appointments to the political process -- which is all this is about (politics).