UPDATED: Lawyers, Democrats rally around Puryear nomination

Saturday, April 12, 2008 at 6:24pm

The nomination of Nashville attorney and Corrections Corporation of America general counsel Gus Puryear to a federal judgeship is being aided by a renewed public relations push highlighting the support of both Nashville legal community Democrats and the son of arguably America’s most storied jurist.

Puryear’s nomination got off to a rocky start Feb. 12 in his testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. A longtime Republican operative, Puryear was grilled by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) over his lack of trial experience and a controversial CCA case involving a woman who died in one of the company’s private prisons in Metro. The state’s medical examiner ruled the death from blunt force trauma to the head a homicide. Four CCA guards were indicted in the case but charges were later dropped.

A round of critical press from local and national media outlets also added to the appearance Puryear’s nomination was going nowhere in recent weeks.

Yet, sources close to Puryear as well as the Judiciary Committee said over the weekend a renewed public relations push is getting a batch of letters from Democrats supporting Puryear in front of Democratic senators on the committee. At the top of the stack is a letter endorsing Puryear from former Clinton White House staffer Thurgood Marshall Jr., son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Marshall, who is on CCA’s board, said in his letter to the committee he has a “high regard” for Puryear’s legal ability and urged the committee to approve his nomination.

“I am confident that Mr. Puryear would be a thoughtful and dedicated public servant, and that he would dispense justice in a manner consistent with the highest ideals of the federal judiciary and our country,” Marshall wrote.

Marshall also served as cabinet secretary to President Bill Clinton and director of legislative affairs and later deputy counsel to Vice President Al Gore.

High-profile Democrats in Nashville’s legal community have also weighed in on Puryear’s behalf since the hearing, including Gary C. Shockley of Baker Donelson Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz; Lisa Ramsey Cole of Lewis King Kreg & Waldrop; Jonathon Cole also of Baker Donelson and Wallace W. Dietz of Bass, Berry & Sims.

Puryear is also getting some help from his own party. Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist — who Puryear worked for in the Senate — penned an opinion column championing Puryear’s nomination in Sunday’s Tennessean.

Prisoner advocates who oppose the privatization of correctional facilities as well as Puryear’s nomination remained skeptical, including Florida-based Private Corrections Institute and its vice president, former CCA inmate and Nashville resident, Alex Friedmann.

Friedmann issued a statement Sunday, showing almost all of the firms for the Democratic lawyers backing Puryear also count CCA as a current or former client. He added the Marshall is well compensated for his role on CCA’s board and owns several thousands of shares of CCA stock, according to Securities and Exchange Commission reports.

“I am sure that the persons discussed above, who have expressed support for Mr. Puryear, have a genuine liking for him both personally and professionally, as indicated in their statements,” Friedmann stated. “However, to the extent that they all also have professional, financial or business ties with CCA, including paid client relationships, their support of Mr. Puryear maintains and strengthens those ties, which is a factor that should be taken into consideration.”

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

One sign of a good reporter is the ability to write about all sides of a story without imprinting his own opinion. Unfortunately, this story is an opinion piece with little signs of reporting.Mr. Puryear was not "grilled by Democrats on the committee." Only two Committee members were present at the meeting-Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Specter. Sen. Feinstein is a Democrat; Sen. Specter is a Republican.Sen. Feinstein was rather gentle with her questions, until Mr. Puryear stated that Ms. Richardson's ribs were probably cracked and her liver damaged, when CPR was administered. That was probably the beginning of the end of Mr. Puryear's credibility for Sen. Feinstein. Left unanswered was who caused the death of Estelle Richardson. Sen. Specter was more harsh with his questions. His disgust was apparent, when he was trying to get a direct answer on how many cases Mr. Puryear had actually worked on as an attorney. It took some time to finally drag out the answer of four cases. Sen. Specter asked Mr. Puryear to define "frivolous". Mr. Puryear chose to not answer that question.Sen. Specter wanted to know why the 2004 after action report for the Bay County Jail was not a public document. Mr. Puryear said it was classified as an attorney-client communication. Then he said that all the rest of the after action reports were public documents. Have you ever tried to get one of these reports? Good luck, because it will probably never happen.The next time you write a story, why don’t you try to be a reporter instead of an editor.

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

This is a small part of a much larger picture. For additional information about Mr. Puryear's judicial nomination, check out: www.againstpuryear.org.

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

Puryear works for a corporation that is undeniably corrupt. They are well known for billing for millions of dollars that were not earned per their contracts. In his responses to the committee, he claimed that CCA guards were "exonerated" for the murder of Ms. Richardson. When taken to task for that spurious claim, he alleged: "When I stated that the officers had been exonerated, I meant thatthey had been relieved of the criminal charges against them. I was using thisterm according to its common, colloquial meaning." "I do agree that a prosecutor's decision not to prosecute a previously indicted defendant is different from a jury's verdict of 'not guilty'."The problem with that lame excuse is that even the colloquial use of the term does not include what Gus contended. But he was speaking as an attorney to the Senate Judiciary, a body that thoroughly understands the legal definition of the word.SOMEBODY murdered Estelle Richardson while she was in CCA care with only CCA guards having access to her. The problem was, with multiple beatings, the prosecution was not certain it could prove which person or persons committed the crime.This was admittedly Puryear's biggest ever case, one of only two in which he appeared in federal court, and yet he has fallen back on the "Humpty Dumpty" defense: "The word means what I want it to mean. Nothing more. Nothing less."Why would Thurgood Marshall, Jr. leap to Puryear's defense? Well, Jr. owns 7,000 shares of CCA stock, worth over $185,000, in addition to the pay he receives for his tokenism on its board of directors. He is a disgrace to his father's name.

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

Brave words, takanee, for a reader that only registered with out site yesterday and remains anonymous.Other reporting has made the same mistake about the number of Senate Democrats in the hearing, and I repeated it. My mistake. It is corrected, and will be for the print edition Monday.You have an awful lot of detail about this situation. Why don't you tell us who you are so the readers can put your words into better context?

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

Any reader can check out the againstpuryear.org site and the Senate oral testimony can be found there. Other committee members asked questions in writing and asked for similar responses. If Clint and other reporters assume that anything found in print must be true, shame on them also. That's where I found the "exonerated" claim and questions regarding Richardson's death.

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

Is anybody surprised that a Democrat would be gentle in questioning a lawyer, and a big corporate one at that? These are the kinds of things that make me shrug and shake my head -- how the Democrats can still have a reputation with a sizable chunk of the uninformed as being for the little guy. Um, maybe that's true if you don't count big law, big labor, big academe, the enviro-nazis, George Soros, Warren Buffet, Ron Birkle, shall I go on? And the industries that don't give to the Dims are forever pulled before Congress to testify. All you need to do is look at the ratio of lobby money to the Dims.

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

shinestx: You must be one of those bitter types Obama was talking about. If you are going to rant, you need to use your stereotypes correctly. You see, CCA is a big corporation, which the Democrats contend are favored by the GOP. What you wish to blather about are trial lawyers, who sue big corporations. In answer to your question, "should I go on?" The answer is no. You are not being helpful.

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

Herr Stein, say "woof" to the frau for me!

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

JohnSevier, nothing can help you! Once again, another Dim proves my point that they can't argue on the merits. Um, Puryear is from CCA and he's in bed with the Dims. You'll believe anything. Whatever Obama says, you'll lap it up. Won't you? Drink the Kool-Aid, bubba!