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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Will Obama Really Fight For This Judicial Nominee?

John J. "Jack" McConnell, Jr. is the Obama administration's nominee for an open seat on the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island.

As documented in my prior post, McConnell donated at least $430,000 to Democrats, including tens of thousands to the Democratic Senators who nominated him (Whitehouse and Reed) and other Democratic Senators who will vote on his nomination.

Now there is a potentially more damaging development.

The Founders Project, part of the conservative Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI), is demanding records regarding the role McConnell and his firm played in a payment made by the State of Rhode Island to a hospital to satisfy a prior pledge by McConnell's firm to the hospital.

The payment was made as part of the lead paint litigation brought by then Attorney General Whitehouse, represented by McConnell's firm. The litigation eventually was thrown out by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, but not until after the State had settled with one defendant. (Whitehouse no longer was Attorney General by the time of the settlement.)

As part of that settlement, payments were made to a hospital in Massachusetts for research. No legal fees were supposed to be paid as part of the settlement, because the settling defendant refused to settle if McConnell's firm earned a fee.

But there was a catch. The payment by the State to the hospital was applied by the hospital to satisfy a prior pledge to the hospital by McConnell's firm.

Did McConnell's firm simply find another way to earn a legal fee through satisfaction of its obligation to the hospital to pay the firm's pledge?

OSPRI wants to find out, and has served a public records request for documents on the settlement, and the details of the financial arrangements whereby the State paid the hospital. OSPRI's Press Release details the conflicting accounts by various participants.

Various Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee have asked pointed questions regarding McConnell's actions in the lead paint case. In response to questions from Jeff Sessions (R-Ala), McConnell admitted the essential details as to the money donated by the State to the hospital being used to satisfy the pledge by McConnell's firm.

This line of inquiry still is developing, but McConnell's nomination appears to be among the most contentious of those currently pending.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for the first time ever, has opposed a nomination to a District Court position. The optics of the campaign donations also are terrible.

Now there are questions as to whether McConnell and/or his firm deceived the State and the public as to the payoff of the firm's pledge to the hospital.

Sheldon Whitehouse certainly will fight for McConnell, as the two have long-standing political connections, and McConnell has been among the heaviest hitters in Rhode Island campaign fundraising.

The question is, is this the nominee for whom Obama wants to fight?

Stay tuned.

Related Post:
How Much Does A Federal Judgeship Cost? $432,000

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