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Inexperienced CCA insider nominated for a federal judgeship

In June 2007, President Bush nominated Gustavus A. Puryear IV, a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) lawyer, for a federal judgeship in the Middle District of Tennessee-- the same U.S. District Court where CCA is headquartered and where much of the litigation against the company takes place.

Puryear's nomination has not been approved by the US Senate (his nomination hearing was held February 12th), but if it is, a troubling conflict of interests will arise. The former CCA lobbyist would work in the same district that most lawsuits against against his old company and its executives are filed. According to Tennesseans Against Puryear, a grassroots organization opposing Puryear's nomination, the Middle District of Tennessee has handled over 260 cases naming CCA or CCA executives or staff since 2000.

CCA has put millions in Puryear's pockets, and allowing him to preside over cases in the district where his old company is headquartered may threaten the foundation of of fairness and impartiality that is central to our judicial system.

Puryear said he would recuse himself from cases involving CCA, which slightly mitigates the conflict of interest that would inherit his federal judgeship, but it still doesn't smell right. Having a wealthy corporate lawyer preside over cases in the district where his old corporation is based makes me cringe.

Puryear inexperienced

In addition to a conflict of interest inherent in a Puryear's judgeship, it seems that Puryear may not even have the proper legal qualifications to take on the role of a federal judge. Puryear has never served as a judge, he has little trial experience, and his last six years of work have been spent as a corporate lawyer.

According to Tenneseans Against Puryear, "Puryear has been actively involved in just five federal cases and only one trial in Tennessee, most recently 10 years ago." The Gannette News Service wrote about Puryear's experience problem in the end of February:

"Puryear's lack of trial experience is a greater concern than his role as a corporate lawyer and his lack of judicial service, said Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Michigan Law School.

Puryear's lack of trial experience is likely why he received a 'qualified' rating by the American Bar Association, instead of the higher "well qualified," Laycock said.

Of the 67 judges nominated by President Bush since January 2007, 14 received a unanimous or majority 'qualified' rating. The rest had unanimous or majority 'well-qualified' ratings."

Puryear's position as general counsel and lobbyist for CCA didn't net him any trial experience, and it certainly has not prepared him for the federal bench. As the top attorney and a top executive for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Puryear spent much of his time at the company's Nashville headquarters stemming a tide of inmates' civil rights lawsuits, finding legal niches to shield CCA from public scrutiny, negotiating new private prison contracts, lobbying the federal government to pass pro-CCA legislation, and fighting off a slew of lawsuits brought by sharholders angered by the company's shady financial practices in 2001.

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