Morning Report 10/4/05Miers on Bush: ‘Smartest Man I Ever Met’


A lot in common with the prez: She’s a fundamentalist Christian, and her pals bilked people out of millions

White House


Judgment daze: Bush and Miers

Relax, all you stiff-necked conservatives: Harriet Miers is the perfect choice for the Supreme Court.

The rest of us are still stunned that George W. Bush, a wannabe Caesar whose gall divides us, has the nerve to put his personal lawyer on the court. But if you had the enfeebled Democrats as your foes, you’d probably go Goth on them too.

The regime has already trotted out the circular logic that will ensure her confirmation, even though she has no business being a judge. And I mean no business — because, as you’ll see below, lawyers in the firm she ran screwed investors, not just the common folk.

The White House hasn’t updated its “Renewal in Iraq” web page this month, but it already has a special page on Miers, which touts her with this:

On numerous occasions, the National Law Journal named her one of the Nation’s 100 most powerful attorneys, and as one of the Nation’s top 50 women lawyers.

But if you go back and read those entries in the NLJ (sorry, but they’re not freely available), the first thing they mention is that she was Bush’s personal lawyer. She didn’t start making the journal’s list until she became his lawyer, so her listing just takes you ’round in circles, as if you were Barney, and doesn’t mean anything.

And then there’s her supposed prominence as leader of a powerhouse Dallas law firm. Again from the White House:

• In 1972, Ms. Miers became the first woman hired at Dallas’s Locke Purnell Rain Harrell.

• In March 1996, her colleagues elected her the first female President of Locke, Purnell, Rain & Harrell, at that time a firm of about 200 lawyers. She became the first female to lead a Texas firm of that size.

• Locke, Purnell eventually merged with a Houston firm and became Locke Liddell & Sapp, LLP, where Ms. Miers became Co-Managing Partner and helped manage an over-400-lawyer firm.

Well, that’s wonderful. But the White House bio neglects to mention that, on her watch, the big firm paid out $30 million to people who were bilked in the huge Austin Forex scandal, a Ponzi scheme engineered by former Texas placekicker Russell Erxleben, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for it. Erxleben and his partner were clients of Locke Liddell.

Lawyers use this specific example of a law firm quickly shelling out huge bucks — without even going to trial — as a case study in how not to practice law.

A 2004 continuing-ed course for lawyers, Texas Lawyer Liability for Negligent Misrepresentation to Nonclients, includes an April 2000 Texas Lawyer magazine article, which noted:

Locke Liddell & Sapp’s agreement to pay $22 million to settle a suit alleging it aided a client in defrauding investors is expected to serve as a warning to other firms that they must take action when they learn a client’s alleged wrongdoing may be harming third parties. The firm agreed April 14 [in 2000] to settle a suit stemming from its representation of Russell Erxleben, a former University of Texas star football kicker whose foreign currency trading company was allegedly a Ponzi scheme.

The firm wound up shelling $8.5 million more. A recent AP story reprising the scandal notes:

Erxleben’s firm, Austin Forex Investments, placed short-term investments in volatile foreign-currency markets. The investors claimed that Erxleben and [Brian Russell Stearns] used money from new investors to pay off old ones until the schemes unraveled. They also said Stearns often bragged that he used the same law firm as Bush.

The investors said they were cheated in part because Locke Liddell helped make the operations look legitimate, including using a firm trust fund to direct millions in investor money to Stearns, and ignored signs of fraud.

And that story adds:

While there was no evidence that Miers knew about the actions of a partner that led to one of the lawsuits, an attorney close to one of the cases blamed Miers for not instilling more integrity in the firm’s lawyers and preventing them from representing bad characters.

The firm … represented some of the state’s biggest corporations and most famous residents, including George W. Bush before and after he was elected governor in 1994.

In the Texas Lawyer article from 2000, an Austin lawyer for people who got bilked by what turned out to be four Locke Liddell partners — not flunkies but partners — noted:

“It’s a very simple legal proposition — a lawyer can’t help people steal money.”

Of course, that’s not the way Miers described it at the time. I mean, why admit responsibility and risk a slew of lawsuits? The story noted:

Harriet Miers, co-managing partner of Locke Liddell, says the firm denies liability in connection with its representation of Erxleben.

“Obviously, we evaluated that this was the right time to settle and to resolve this matter and that it was in the best interest of the firm to do so,” Miers says.

But all that’s OK. Bush doesn’t mind rubbing up against people accused of big-time crookery. Ken Lay was his biggest campaign financier until Enron collapsed, as I’ve noted, and Bush even helped Lay forge ties with Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov.

The point is that Miers will make a fine judge because she’s a good Christian.

Miers has already got the enthusiastic support of Jay Sekulow, one of the most militant and prominent lawyers of the religious right. Through his American Center for Law & Justice (the Christian right’s ACLU), he announced:

We will begin mobilizing a national campaign to ensure that Miers is confirmed. In addition, support for the nominee will be generated through our daily radio broadcast, Jay Sekulow Live!, that reaches 1.5 million listeners, through the weekly television show, by using direct mail, phone calls, and e-mails to a list approaching one million supporters. We are prepared to meet the opposition’s challenges head on and ensure that this battle ends with the confirmation of Harriet Miers as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Sekulow is an interesting figure, having resolved the age-old conflict between yid and ego by changing himself from a New York Jew to a rabid evangelical Christian. Read his own account on a Jews for Jesus page here.

And take a look at the reporting done by University of Texas journalism prof Marvin Olasky, a Jewish-communist-turned-evangelical-Christian, an erstwhile adviser to Bush, and also the editor of the influential (among religious conservatives) and sprightly World magazine.

You may recall Olasky as the guy who has been widely credited with coining the phrase “compassionate conservative,” though he modestly denies claiming said credit.

Burning the phone wires and torturing his keyboard, Olasky mustered a lot of stuff about Miers, both pro and con, before the nomination was even officially announced. (Whatever you think of Olasky’s politics, there’s no denying his technical skills as a journalist.) At 8:19 Monday morning, he posted this:

… here’s one negative analysis from a lawyer who is a conservative Christian and worked with Harriet Miers in Texas (I agreed to go off-the-record with this lawyer, a credible person whose practice could be seriously hurt by this criticism of Miers):

“Harriet could have become a conservative in Washington, but unless she did, she doesn’t have any particular judicial philosophy … I never heard her take a position on anything … We’ll have another Sandra Day O’Connor …

“Harriet worships the president and has called him the smartest man she’s known. She’s a pretty good lawyer …

“This president can be bamboozled by anyone he feels close to. If a person fawns on him enough, is loyal, works 25 hours a day and says you’re the smartest man I ever met, all of a sudden you’re right for the Supreme Court.”

Yes, that’s true, but there’s still no need for the Christian right to worry. Olasky had already talked with her longtime pastor in Dallas and reported:

I talked [Sunday] with Miers’ pastor, Ron Key, who for 33 years (until a few weeks ago) was pastor of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas. “She started coming to church in 1980. She helped out with kids, made coffee, furnished donuts, served on missions committee. She worked out her faith in practical, behind-the-scenes ways. She doesn’t draw attention to herself, she’s humble, self-effacing.”

Key has still seen her in recent years because “her mother is 93. Harriet tries to get home as much as she can.” When Key and Miers met in 1980, “I don’t know how strong her faith was at that time. She came to a place where she totally committed her life to Jesus. She had gone to church before, but when she came to our church it became more serious to her … . Our church is strong for life, but Harriet and I have not had any conversations on that … . We believe in the biblical approach to marriage.”

And her mentor, Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, who attended the same Dallas church and introduced her to Bush, was also queried by Olasky, who noted yesterday:

Miers has been a member of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas for 25 years, where Hecht has been an elder. He calls it a “conservative evangelical church … in the vernacular, fundamentalist, but the media have used that word to tar us.”

He says she was on the missions committee for ten years, taught children in Sunday School, made coffee, brought donuts: “Nothing she’s asked to do in church is beneath her.”

On abortion, choosing his words carefully for an on-the-record statement, he says “her personal views are consistent with that of evangelical Christians … . You can tell a lot about her from her decade of service in a conservative church.”

And from her service to “smartest man” Bush.