Senator slams Obama judicial nominee

John O'Brien May 4, 2011, 7:19am




WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Tuesday called one of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees a liar who manipulates ethical standards for his own financial gain.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pushing for a Senate vote on the nomination of Rhode Island plaintiffs attorney Jack McConnell, who was nominated by Obama more than a year ago and is a heavy campaign donor to Democrats. McConnell is currently an attorney in Motley Rice's Providence office.

An 11-7 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee that approved McConnell's nomination featured only one Republican in the majority. Cornyn, of Texas, was one of the Republicans who voted against him.

"I'm sorry to have to say this, but the hard truth is Mr. McConnell's record... is one of not upholding the rule of law, but perverting the rule of law, ignoring the responsibilities that he had to his client and manipulating those ethical standards in order to enrich himself and his law partners," Cornyn said on the Senate floor.

"But, first, let me just say that Mr. McConnell, when he came before the Senate Judiciary Committee, intentionally misled the committee during the confirmation process. I don't know how I can say it any more gently -- the fact is, he lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation process."

The alleged lie stems from McConnell's involvement in a lead paint lawsuit brought by the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office, which hired Motley Rice to pursue the case. The case was unsuccessful, and Sherwin-Williams has sued the firm in an Ohio court because it says Motley Rice attorneys stole privileged documents with the help of a former Sherwin-Williams employee.

Cornyn says McConnell lied when he was questioned about the situation by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"In 2010, in his answers to written questions from the committee, Mr. McConnell told members, that 'I would not say I was familiar with the documents in any fashion.'

"Only a few months later, in September of 2010, this same nominee gave a deposition in an Ohio court where he testified that he was the first attorney at his firm to review the documents in question...that he had drafted a newspaper editorial citing information that had come from those documents and that portions of those documents were incorporated in a brief filed under his signature.

"Despite this obvious contradiction and given an opportunity to correct his misleading statement, Mr. McConnell unequivocally stood by his original statement to committee members."

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed recommended McConnell to fill a vacancy in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island last year.

"Jack McConnell is a brilliant legal mind and an outstanding community leader. We believe he possesses the experience, intellect, and temperament to be a great judge on the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island," a statement released by the senators said.

Whitehouse, then the attorney general, hired McConnell and his firm Motley Rice to file a lawsuit against the former makers of lead paint in 1999.

The state Supreme Court unanimously struck down a verdict for the plaintiffs in 2008, turning back a legal theory that said the companies created a public nuisance by making lead-based paint, even before its effects were known and the federal government banned it in 1978.

Cornyn criticized the suit, which used the public nuisance claim as a way around the tolled statute of limitations on a products liability case. He also took issue with an op-ed McConnell wrote after the state Supreme Court rejected the claim.

"It showed not only does he still adamantly believe in these radical unprecedented legal theories, rejected by the high court of Rhode Island, but he also lacks the temperament to serve on the federal bench," Cornyn said. "Instead of respecting the decision made by the highest court in the state, Mr. McConnell wrote a strident op-ed piece condemning the court and stating that he believed their decisions 'let the wrongdoers off the hook.

"In other words, Mr. McConnell made clear that he believes the law should be manipulated to serve his agenda, not to uphold the rule of law, nor to respect the very bodies under our system who are responsible for interpreting the law and rendering judgment."

Cornyn is a former Texas attorney general who said he does not believe in no-bid contingency fee contacts given by attorneys general to private firms when that firm contributes to that attorney general.

After Whitehouse left the Attorney General's Office, McConnell and his wife pumped $12,600 into his campaign fund. Whitehouse took office in 2007.

Since 2001, the McConnells have given Reed $13,200, including $8,800 for his 2008 re-election campaign.

McConnell also represented some states in their lawsuits against the tobacco industry. His work, and the work of other private attorneys, led to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. It has an estimated worth of $246 billion over its first 25 years and allows for annual payments made to the attorneys who litigated the case.

A post by Judicial Watch says McConnell will receive between $2.5 million and $3.1 million annually until 2024 as a result of the settlement.

"For anyone that would praise Mr. McConnell for giving up a successful legal career in order to serve as a federal judge, remember that he would be reaping huge windfalls at the expense of taxpayers long into his tenure as a federal judge," Cornyn said.

Through the years, McConnell and his wife have given more than $600,000 to the Democratic Party and its candidates, including Obama. Obama nominated him in March 2010. Cornyn questioned why Obama has not withdrawn a nomination met with such resistance.

Finally, Cornyn said he disapproves of McConnell's perception of the role of a judge.

"Mr. McConnell, during the Judiciary Committee deliberations, described his legal philosophy as saying ,'there are wrongs that need to be righted, and that's how I see the law.'

"Well, that doesn't cite any applicable legal standard, and it doesn't take into account law as we know it, but just wrongs that he believes need to be righted."

The Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is also opposing McConnell's nomination. The ILR owns Legal Newsline.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at

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