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PLN associate editor quoted in article about Puryear nomination/prisoner's death

Murfreesboro Post, Jan. 1, 2008.
PLN associate editor quoted in article about Puryear nomination/prisoner's death - Murfreesboro Post 2008

Hank Haines: CCA lawyer’s judicial nomination raises serious questions

Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2008 8:31 am

Four years ago, Estelle Richardson, 34, was murdered in a Nashville jail run by Corrections Corporation of America. That's a tangential issue in the legal career of Gustavus A. Puryear IV, just one of the things that has caught the attention of Alex Friedmann, an ex-con gone good and now an editor of Prison Legal News, an organization devoted to digging out mistreatment and maltreatment of prisoners.

Charges were filed against four guards who were accused of beating Richardson to death. But their conviction foundered on a technical matter involving time of death.

It is one of the things that troubles Friedmann (once a convict himself) about Puryear's nomination for a lifetime appointment to the federal district court in Middle Tennessee.

Puryear is chief lawyer of Corrections Corporation of America that is headquartered in Nashville.

"CCA is the defendant in scores and scores of lawsuits each year. It is difficult to see how Puryear could ever serve as presiding judge in a trial involving his old bosses."

The nomination---presented before the Senate Judiciary Committee by Republican Senators Corker and Alexander---came about the way most do: Puryear has been a worker in the vineyards for Tennessee and national Republicans. He gave important money to Corker and Alexander and coached up Dick Cheney for the '00 vice presidential debates.

He worked for Fred Thompson. He's been named a "Republican heavyweight" by a Nashville newspaper.

Unhappily, his qualifications for a federal judgeship are wanting. Friedmann says Puryear has been personally involved in only five federal cases and two trials over his entire legal career, and lost one of those. "He has not served as a practicing attorney for years," Friedmann says.

Republicans answer that Puryear has been rated as "qualified" by the American Bar Association.

"Well," Friedmann says, deconstructing the classification methodology. "ABA rates lawyers Qualified, Unqualified, or Well Qualified. Seventy-five percent of all lawyers get the Well Qualified classification. Puryear, therefore, is in the bottom 25 percent."

But Friedmann's great objection to Puryear's appointment remains his conflicted position. He's a CCA man and has been their chief lawyer for years. He says he'll recuse himself from their cases for five years. "Well, CCA's in the courts all the time. And what about after five years? He doesn't say what he'll do after that."

In typical Republican fashion of the past seven years, Puryear's record was great from a political standpoint but wanting for professional creds.

Today, the nomination is being held up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which indicates it failed to get pro forma approval, a bad indicator for the state's Republican senators and party. There is a chance that Puryear won't be approved in the Senate committee. This would, in effect, kill the nomination.

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