Puryear judicial nomination draws clash

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 2:42am

The battle over the Bush White House’s nomination of Corrections Corporation of America General Counsel Gus Puryear to a federal judgeship has turned to charges between supporters and opponents of conflicts of interest and hidden business agendas.

Activists opposing private prisons and Puryear’s nomination sent a formal letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee questioning the business ties of law firms whose attorneys have offered their own formal support of Puryear to the committee, including quite a few Democrats.

Puryear’s employer shot back, saying Private Corrections Institute (PCI) is simply an extension of the larger Florida Police Benevolent Association, a Florida police union that also represents correctional officers and openly opposes prison privatization.

PCI Vice President Alex Friedmann sent an April 14 letter to the committee and chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy stating attorneys from both sides of the political aisle supporting Puryear had numerous personal and business ties to Puryear and CCA.

The letter appears to specifically address Democratic lawyers who have crossed party lines to endorse the appointment of Puryear, a nominee of President George W. Bush to the bench in Middle Tennessee and a longtime GOP operative.

Friedmann, a Nashville resident and former CCA inmate, states in his letter that firms like Bass, Berry & Sims and Baker Donelson count CCA as their clients, intimating that the support of Democratic attorneys from their firms should be discounted. The letter in its opening references a City Paper story on growing Democratic support for Puryear among members of Nashville’s legal community.

“The question is, of all the people cited they all have financial relationships,” Friedmann told The City Paper. “You would kind of like to see some people support Mr. Puryear without a financial connection. …I see an absence of that in the letters I’ve seen.”

Friedmann’s letter also addresses the support lent to Puryear’s nomination from Thurgood Marshall Jr. — a former aide to President Bill Clinton and the son of the legendary U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Friedmann maintains Marshall’s status as a CCA Board member should mitigate the consideration of his support for Puryear.

“He (Marshall) thus has a substantial financial stake in CCA’s continued success and, of course, has a duty as a board member to be supportive of the company and its officers, including Mr. Puryear,” Friedmann states.

However, CCA officials suggest PCI may have a conflict of its own, saying the Florida Police Benevolent Association, a statewide police union with a multi-million budget that also represents corrections officers, in part funds the nonprofit.

CCA Vice President of Corporate Marketing Louise Grant said PCI’s efforts against Puryear were not about his merit as a future judge but about the Florida police union’s stance against private prisons.

Grant said the union opposes private prisons because CCA does not unionize employees and therefore private prisons cut into the union’s share of potential members.

She added the FPBA and PCI also share employees, noting PCI Executive Director Ken Kopczynski is also the police union’s “lobbyist.”

Internal Revenue Service form 990s for PCI also show the FPBA donates some office space to PCI at no charge, according to a City Paper survey of 990 forms for both organizations.

“Unions are driven by membership dues,” Grant said Monday. “When you have a private sector business like us come in, we are not unionizing our employees. If it were a state-run facility, they would be unionizing their employees. We jeopardize the union status quo.

“This is not about Gus Puryear,” Grant added. “This is about attacking anyone very publicly associated with CCA.”

Reached at his Florida office by The City Paper, Kopczynski said Grant’s account was disingenuous as the FPBA does not accept private corrections officers.

“They are a threat to public safety as they have high turnover and low pay,” Kopczynski said.

Yet, Kopczynski did say the FPBA does pay three-fourths of his salary while PCI pays the other one-fourth. He also said he is the legal and political affairs assistant for the FPBA. He added he created the PCI after running across the national issue of prison privatization while working for the police union in Florida.

“The PBA isn’t necessarily interested in things that go on outside of Florida,” Kopczynski said. “…The PBA could care less about Gus Puryear.”

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By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

From what I have read about this guy there is no reason why he should be appointed a Federal Judge.Not to say there is anything wrong with him but nothing in his background justifies the appointment.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The Repubs seem to be really cozy with CCA. During the Dumtwist administration, if a CCA exec broke wind, Don would get a nose burn.

By: Kropotkin on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The Private Corrections Institute is a citizen watchdog organization. Only a single one of its active members has anything at all to do with the Florida Police Benevolent Association, an independent union.Its board, on which Mr. Friedman sits, serves on an entirely voluntary basis. Thurgood Marshall Jr., on the other hand, has gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars from CCA. For-profit prisons are typically opposed because they are dangerous to the public, their employees and inmates alike, do not save the taxpayers any money, pay poverty-level wages and even more anemic benefits, and have been involved in widespread corruption. Their executives make in the millions to tens of millions yearly while their guards may make as little as $7 an hour. In 2006, the CEO of CCA made $22.5 million.They have astronomical escape rates and frequent riots.For-profit prisons are also opposed by many civic and advocacy organizations, and numerous denominations including the Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic, Methodist and United Church of Christ. Perhaps Ms. Grant would like to question the motivation of these religious organizations as well.

By: againstpuryear on 12/31/69 at 6:00

For more information on the Puryear nomination, please check out: www.againstpuryear.org.

By: ibeen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Wow, I am sure that website is fair with that name. Come on, are you kidding me??

By: againstpuryear on 12/31/69 at 6:00

About as fair as anything else you'll read in the media. Check it out and make up your own mind -- at least it's truth in advertising!