With McConnell confirmed, records request remains

By John O'Brien | May 6, 2011


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - The fight to reveal the details of DuPont's settlement with the state of Rhode Island will go on but will have to have a different objective now that attorney Jack McConnell has been confirmed as a federal judge.

Brian Bishop of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute says new leaders in the state's Republican Party have refiled a request for the information. The group was worried about a stipulation in a settlement reached with law firm Motley Rice, which was representing the State in lead paint litigation.

It called for $2.5 million of the $10 million to go to Brigham & Women's Hospital in Massachusetts to satisfy a pledge made by the law firm.

Bishop says OSPRI's involvement reached its "logical conclusion" when the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved McConnell's nomination with an 11-7 vote, questioned McConnell and that the eventual outcome of the request could be used to prove more transparency is needed in outside counsel contracts.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked McConnell if DuPont was aware of the agreement. McConnell responded in the affirmative, but Bishop wasn't buying it.

"The public record is replete with statements from DuPont indicating they were not aware of this relationship and objected to their donation being credited to McConnell's firm," Bishop said. "We think it an ethical blind spot if this answer should instead be taken to suggest it was ethical to dupe opposing counsel rather than openly insist on a fee."

But McConnell advanced through committee and was confirmed by the entire Senate with a 50-44 vote Wednesday. Bishop says the issue could still be used to highlight the dangers involved when state attorneys general hire private law firms to pursue litigation.

Another $1 million went to Brown University, then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch's alma mater.

Bishop called the payment to the hospital "ethically questionable" but took more issue with an inability to obtain details of the settlement. More transparency in outside counsel contracts would have been helpful, he said.

McConnell had also told the committee that he waived "fees that would be due from the state's settlement with DuPont, on the condition that those fees be directed to a charitable cause."

McConnell was recommended by two Rhode Island senators to whom he gave more than $25,000. President Barack Obama went through with the nomination.

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

Whitehouse, then the attorney general, hired Motley Rice to file suit in 1999.

McConnell was also a member of the litigation team that brought suit against tobacco companies on behalf of states, resulting in the $246-billion, 46-state Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998. He will make millions of dollars in fees every year until 2024.

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

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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