Who am I talking about? Federal judges.
The legal decisions rendered by federal judges seldom make the news unless they deal with issues of public importance. 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 Corp. of America (CCA) – 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 Nov. 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 before service, with no action taken by Mr. Puryear. In 39 cases, other attorneys handled the actual litigation. Mr. Puryear sent a letter to the court in one case and was personally involved in five others – most recently in 1998.
According to court records only one case in which he was actively involved went to trial, and he has never litigated a case on his own. He has written one published law review article during his entire legal career.
So what makes Mr. Puryear qualified for appointment as a federal judge? He has strong political connections. He worked under former Senators Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, and served as an advisor to Dick Cheney during the 2000 debates. He has donated over $13,000 to Republican candidates since 2001 – including to Senators Alexander and Corker, who have both endorsed his nomination. The Nashville Post referred to him as a "Republican heavyweight."
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 Tennessee residents.
For more information on Mr. Puryear's judicial nomination, please visit: www.againstpuryear.org.
Alex Friedmann is the Associate Editor of Prison Legal News, Vice President of the Private Corrections Institute, and an ex-offender who served six years at a CCA prison.