Rex: A different world … without a gavel

Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 11:45pm

On March 1, 2007, the world was totally different than it is today.

Bernie Madoff was still rich and respected, Barack Obama was a long-shot presidential contender, Vince Young was fresh off his Rookie of the Year season, Karl Dean was just a mayoral candidate and U.S. District Judge Robert Echols was headed into retirement.

Fast-forward to today, and the lives of all the aforementioned but Echols have totally changed. But don’t blame the judge: He wants to hang up his black robe more than anyone. The winds of change that swept Obama into office have yet to lift Echols’ sails into retirement, and the senior status he took in 2007 hangs like an albatross around his neck.

As readers may recall, then-President George W. Bush tapped Corrections Corporation of America general counsel Gus Puryear for Echols’ job, but that nomination fizzled quickly after activists and Senate liberals killed it. No one has been nominated since.

For a time, it looked as if Nashville attorney Gregg Ramos might get the nod from Obama, but that appears to have been derailed.

Meanwhile, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Martha Craig (“Cissy”) Daughtrey took senior status (read that: retired) this year, and her replacement, Nashville attorney Jane Branstetter Stranch, was put through to the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee last week. Unless a senator puts a “hold” on her nomination, Stranch could be confirmed as early as this week.

So while Echols has been left hanging, Daughtrey appears to have clear sailing into vacation land.

According to Rex’s sources, two people are to blame for the delay in getting Nashville a new federal judge. And, depending on who’s doing the talking, one is more culpable than the other.

Some point the finger at Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid for playing politics with the nomination process, while others say outgoing White House counsel Greg Craig is at fault.

According to national media reports, Obama kicked Craig to the curb because of his role in advising the closure of Guantanamo Bay by January 2010. According to Rex’s sources, he also wanted to have a say in the hundreds of judicial nominations that inevitably confront the president.

Incoming White House counsel Bob Bauer is widely considered to be more politically astute, and is expected to jump-start the process of getting judges vetted and nominated.

Just don’t expect Echols to hold his breath.

Dude, watch what you say

Rex was taking advantage of some free public wi-fi with his corporate-issued Mac laptop recently when a friendly stranger approached him.

After a few minutes of unrelated small talk, the stranger volunteered that he’s a local employee of computer maker Dell. Eyeballing Rex’s sleek, white, fruit-decorated machine with a look of respect and admiration, he noted that he doesn’t — and wouldn’t ever — own one of his company’s products.

“If you want something cheap that you’ll need to replace in three years, a Dell is great,” the stranger said. He proceeded to call his employer’s computers “junk” or “crap” or some variation thereof. (Rex was intently writing a recent column and can’t remember exactly which pejorative term the Dell dude used.)

Though the stranger seemed to get a kick out of the employer bashing, he may not be laughing long.

Given the workforce cutbacks the once-great computer maker made in Middle Tennessee earlier this year, it’s probably only a matter of time before the disgruntled employee is out of work and shopping for a cheap desktop.

Rex Noseworthy appears Mondays in The City Paper. He can reached at rnoseworthy@nashvillecitypaper.com