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Morning Report 10/5/05Harriet’s Supreme Qualification: Her Firm’s Fundraising

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She’s never been a judge, but Locke Liddell has paid for some

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Harkavy/White House
Look closely: Bush points something out to Harriet Miers during an August 2002 walk on his ranch. I’d rather point out the specter of Bush fundraiser Jeff Love, a bigwig at her old law firm, hovering over them both.

Who said Harriet Miers had no experience on the bench? OK, I did, but I was wrong, in a way.

She and Alberto Gonzales have both now risen through the ranks of Texas lawyers to judgeships — and both owe that directly to George W. Bush, whose own career, in turn, depended on cash from Locke Liddell, the firm she once ran.

In fact, Karl Rove, as you’ll see below, made his bones parlaying Locke Liddell’s campaign cash into judgeships in Texas. And we know what Rove later did for George H.W. Bush‘s boy.

Tom Phillips, former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, once swore up and down that Gonzales would be no “judicial activist.”

Although I’ve tried to assure right-wing Americans that they have nothing to worry about, the more pressing question seems to be this: How about Harriet Miers? Phillips, who has known her for 30 years, told NPR on Monday:

    She is a very bright, careful, conscientious lawyer and she has a marvelous temperament. She led the state bar and our state lottery commission during some very fractious times and she has a remarkable ability to listen to people and forge consensus, and I think she will be a marvelous judge.

Careful and conscientious? As I pointed out yesterday, that’s not what the people burned in the mammoth Austin Forex scandal say.

As far as “activism,” Bush swore yesterday that Miers “shares” his “judicial philosophy.” Clearly, he doesn’t have one, but what he meant was that she will not be what the right-wingers call a “judicial activist.”

That depends on what kind of activity you’re talking about. If it’s the kind that involves buying and selling judgeships, her law firm has been plenty active.

In Texas, there’s a special synergy involving judges and politics and money. Locke Liddell, the big corporate firm in Dallas that Miers ran while she was also Bush’s lawyer when he was governor, is well known among Texas critics for buying and selling judges.

Hey, it’s all legal there — well, most of it — because Texas judges are “chosen” in partisan elections. Even Supreme Court justices have to peddle their asses for votes.

Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) — the invaluable watchdog that keeps an eye on the doings of Texans like Bush, Tom DeLay, and Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim, the chicken magnate at whose West Virginia plant Lynndie England once worked — has sniffed out the details. And so have Texas Monthly and a host of other real fine publications in that state.

In fact, Texas is a mecca of muckraking, mostly because there’s a lot of muck. In his June 2003 article, “Is ‘Al Gonzales’ Spanish For ‘Stealth Liberal’?” Texas Monthly executive editor S.C. Gwynne wondered whether Bush’s lawyer pal would wind up as kind of a liberal on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gwynne guessed wrong, but his portrait of Gonzales (available only through paid subscription) is interesting for what it says about Miers. I’ll pick up the story when Gonzales was a young lawyer at powerhouse firm Vinson & Elkins, making partner in 1990. (By the way, that’s Enron’s old firm.)

A friend, Roland Garcia, at the time a partner at Locke Liddell, convinced Gonzales to run for the board of directors of the State Bar of Texas, recalled Gwynne, adding:

    Gonzales ran and won and through Garcia met State Bar president Harriet Miers. As it happened — and this was the turn of fate that would determine the course of Gonzales’ life from then onward — Miers was also George W. Bush’s personal lawyer.

    After being elected governor, Bush solicited her opinion of Gonzales as a candidate for general counsel, whose job it is to render opinions on legislation, government ethics, pardons, and clemencies. Miers recommended Gonzales.

So that’s how Gonzales became Bush’s buddy — and how they wound up spending minutes upon minutes agonizing over each execution that made George W. Bush the nation’s most hangingest governor.

Meanwhile, the ties between Miers and Bush went way beyond just lawyer-privileged-client privilege. For example, TPJ’s exhaustive annotated list of Bush campaign donors includes Jeff Love, another privileged son (his daddy was banker Ben Love). The young master manages the Houston branch of Locke Liddell. He’s never been on the bench, either, but he’s stuffed a lot of cash in judges’ G-strings, as TPJ notes:

    He headed Houston-area fundraising for the 1996 re-election of Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips. Texas state judges are elected to office through expensive partisan campaigns. Much of the money these judges raise comes from lawyers and litigants who have cases in their courtrooms.

I told you there was a lot of muck to be raked in Texas. No wonder Bush’s approach to picking judges is even more venal than one would think it would be. But it does make you wonder why in the world anyone would ask Tom Phillips what he thinks of the person who once ran Locke Liddell. As TPJ’s profile of Jeff Love says:

    With Love’s aid, Chief Justice Phillips raised $1.3 million in 1996, taking at least 43 percent of these funds from interests with cases before his court. Phillips says he opposes this practice, yet he was not compelled to engage in it: his opponent raised just $20,056.

    Love’s firm, which argues a steady stream of cases before the Texas Supreme Court, is a big part of the problem. Locke Liddell & Sapp lawyers are the third largest source of docket-tainted political contributions to Texas Supreme Court justices.

This is the firm, remember, that is supposedly a feather in the cap of Harriet Miers.

Of course, you can’t hardly do no Texas politics stories without mentioning Bush’s handlers, can you? More from TPJ:

    President Bush’s top political advisor, Karl Rove, ran the campaigns of many of these Texas Supreme Court justices. Though this judicial-selection system is a cause of national embarrassment, Bush supported the status quo as governor. Love co-chaired Bush’s Texas state finance committee in 2000. He sits on the board of JP Morgan Chase-Houston.

Now how did Jeff Love come to sit on the board of this particular bank? His Locke Liddell profile points out that he was a star baseball player at Vanderbilt, but it neglects to mention his daddy, who ran giant Texas Commerce Bank, which merged with New York’s Chemical Bank in 1987, which in turn got swallowed up by JP Morgan Chase.

No wonder the bank’s board got out the high chair for Jeff.

All that bank background is courtesy of the blurb for Daddy Ben’s autobiography, My Life in Texas Commerce, which features a forward by James Baker — Reagan’s chief of staff and Treasury secretary and Bush the Elder’s Secretary of State.

Now we know that, although Harriet Miers may have never been a judge, she’s familiar with what’s in their wallets — and in the vaults of their corporate clients.

Even with that, however, think what a miserable job she did overseeing her law firm’s work in the Austin Forex scandal, which I wrote about yesterday. That Ponzi scheme ensnared four Locke Liddell partners, and the potential damage from angry investors was so great that Locke Liddell didn’t make even a half-hearted attempt to defend itself — even in front of judges whose campaigns it had bankrolled. Instead, Miers’s firm paid out more than $30 million.

Yes, she’ll make a fine judge, especially when it comes to protecting the citizenry from corporate vultures.