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.”