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.”