McConnell event came at no extra cost, court says

Jon Campisi Jun. 28, 2011, 9:45am


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - A who's who of Rhode Island politicos looked on Monday as Jack McConnell was sworn in during a public investiture ceremony that was a marked departure from similar ceremonies involving U.S. District Court nominees.

The event was held in a large ballroom at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Investiture ceremonies for freshly appointed federal judges are typically done within the confines of the courts.

David DiMarzio, the clerk of court for the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, said that there were no added costs to the courts for hosting the ceremony in a venue other than the courthouse.

He said money is already budgeted in Washington for these types of situations, where an anticipated large turnout requires court proceedings to be held in a bigger space. McConnell had already been sworn in, though, and has been working on cases since May.

"This falls in the same category as naturalization ceremonies and other types of ceremonial events at the court," he said.

MCConnell was recommended for the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island by the state's two U.S. Senators, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.

He was confirmed in an early May 50-44 Senate vote, though his nomination by President Barack Obama didn't exactly go smoothly, with Republicans wary of the plaintiffs attorney who is also a strong Democratic campaign contributor.

Nevertheless, McConnell advanced, and on Monday, the crowd in attendance was a friendly one filled with federal and state judges, Rhode Island's governor and lieutenant governor, members of the state's congressional delegation, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, and state and local government officials.

A team of deputy U.S. Marshals provided security.

"This is a glorious day for the rule of law in Rhode Island," said 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Senior Judge Bruce Selya. "I am supremely confident that... you will hold that seat admirably and will bring added luster to an already distinguished district court bench in this district."

Whitehouse, who was instrumental in pushing through McConnell's nomination, called McConnell a top trial lawyer and a dedicated public servant to the citizens of Rhode Island.

"I'm delighted, Jack, to join you in this proud day for you and for your family," Whitehouse said. "We look forward to great things ahead."

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.

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.

Through the years, he and his wife have given more than $600,000 to the Democratic Party and its candidates, including Obama. Obama nominated him in March 2010.

Reed, the state's senior senator, similarly professed admiration for McConnell, the lawyer, and said he's proud that the man has joined a bench that he called "extraordinary."

U.S. District Court for Rhode Island Chief Judge Mary Lisi, who had already sworn in McConnell last month so he could begin working on cases immediately, ceremonially bestowed the honor upon McConell at the convention center, with McConnell's father-in-law, Donald Shea, a retired Rhode Island Supreme Court justice, draping the black robes on his son-in-law.

"Today is indeed a joyous day for all of us," Lisi said. "I welcome the McConnell family to our family."

McConnell's brother and former colleague at the Motley Rice law firm in Providence, Bob McConnell, also spoke during the event, saying that no one is more deserving of this honor than his brother Jack.

"His values, legal abilities and interpersonal skills," should serve McConnell well on the federal bench, Bob McConnell said.

As for the after-party, DiMarzio said those costs were picked up privately by McConnell and his people, and were not funded using tax dollars.

"We had nothing to do with the reception," he said. "That was handled privately."

Similarly, the security required no added costs, since deputy U.S. Marshals would have been involved whether the ceremony was held at the courthouse or the convention center, he said.

"I don't believe he used anyone other than our own staff here," DiMarzio said.

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