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Editorial by PLN Assoc. editor Alex Friedmann re federal judicial nomination

Tennessean, Jan. 1, 2007.
Editorial by PLN Assoc. editor Alex Friedmann re federal judicial nomination - Tennessean 2007

U.S. Senate, Middle Tennesseans should take close look at judicial nominee


They are some of the most powerful people in the state, but you rarely hear about them. They make decisions that address hot-button topics ranging from abortion and political corruption to religious freedom and the death penalty. They can put you in prison or they can vindicate your civil rights.

Who am I talking about? Federal judges.

The legal decisions rendered by U.S. district court judges seldom make the news unless they deal with issues of public importance, such as Judge Aleta Trauger's ruling last month that suspended executions in Tennessee. Federal judges, who are appointed for life, wield an enormous amount of power. Thus, it stands to reason that only highly qualified candidates would be nominated for federal judicial positions.

Considering the nomination of Gustavus A. Puryear IV for the district court in Middle Tennessee, however, that apparently isn't the case.

You've probably never heard of Mr. Puryear, but you may know his employer, Corrections Corporation of America — the nation's largest private-prison company. Mr. Puryear serves as CCA's general counsel. He received a salary of $237,308 plus $602,957 in other compensation last year, and since November 2006 has cashed in $2.64 million in CCA stock. This presumably means he would have a conflict of interest should he preside over cases involving CCA ... and more than 400 federal cases naming CCA or CCA employees have been filed in Middle Tennessee.

While Mr. Puryear may be wealthy in terms of cash and stock, whether he is equally rich in legal experience is debatable. He spent just three years at a Nashville law firm. He has been named as counsel in 130 federal cases in Tennessee, mostly after hiring on with CCA in 2001. However, 85 of those cases were dismissed by the court, with no action taken by Mr. Puryear.

In 39 of the cases, other attorneys handled the actual litigation. Mr. Puryear sent a letter to the court in one case and was actively involved in five others — most recently in 1998. According to court records, only one case in which he was personally involved went to trial, and he has never litigated a case on his own.

So what makes Mr. Puryear qualified for appointment as a federal judge? He has strong political connections. He worked under former Sens. Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, and served as an adviser to Dick Cheney during the 2000 debates. He has donated more than $13,000 to Republican candidates since 2001 — including to Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, who have endorsed his nomination.

But lifetime federal judicial appointments should not be based on political payback; only the most experienced and qualified candidates should be appointed to the federal bench. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case in regard to Mr. Puryear's nomination, which ill-serves all Middle Tennessee residents.

Last week, the Alliance for Justice submitted a formal letter to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, opposing Mr. Puryear's nomination.

For more information on Mr. Puryear's judicial nomination, please visit:

Alex Friedmann of Antioch is the associate editor of Prison Legal News, vice president of the Private Corrections Institute, and an ex-offender who served time at a CCA prison.

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