Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Harriet ! you got some 'Xplaining to do!: Miers' shady deal and nomination killer?

Poor Poor Harriet, she's been W's faithful "work wife for all these years, and even sent him all those Cute little Puppy cards to show him she thought he was the "best governor ever". And all she ever wanted in return was a lifetime appointment to the highest and most prestigious judicial body in the land. Really was that so much to ask?

Well apparently, some ungrateful Wingnuts think so. ( Who do they think shut that Guy up about the president's TANG admission anyway?) For some reason they are pissed off that W didn't nominate Attila the Hun (don't try telling them he's dead ) or at the very least Judge Roy Moore

Fortunately for them and sadly for her , Sunday's Philly Inquirer digs up the scandal that will allow W to try again:

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers collected more than 10 times the market value for a small slice of family-owned land in a large Superfund pollution cleanup site in Dallas where the state wanted to build a highway off-ramp.

and that's just the beginning of this deliciously ironic story:
You see, in proof that there is poetic (or at least ironic) justice in this world; it seems that Harriet got this sweetheart deal thanks to a healthy dose of cronyism courtesy of the Texas bench:

The payment came after a judge, who received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Miers' law firm, appointed a professional associate of Miers and an outspoken property-rights activist to the three-member panel that determined how much the state should pay.

Now mind, you thanks to Texas' uniquely politcal system of selecting judges these sorts of conflicts of interest are so common that it's nearly impossible to refer to the Texas "justice" system without reverting to air quotes. However, even Texas-style judical corruption is rarely this blatant:

The resulting six-figure payout to the Miers family in 2000 came despite the state's objections to the "excessive" amount and to the process used to set the price. The panel recommended paying nearly $5 a square foot for land that was valued at less than 30 cents a square foot.

for those of you playing along at home, that's a mark-up of nearly 1500%. And 50x the state's initial offer for the land:

The condemnation case in Dallas began in April 1999, after the Miers family rejected the state's initial offer of $5,900 for a half-acre of their land and a subsequent offer of $27,000.

The land, at North Westmoreland Road and Interstate 30 in west Dallas, was one of several parcels that Miers' father purchased in the area after World War II. The market value for the entire 18.74-acre lot, according to state tax records, was $244,890. It is vacant and brush-covered. ....

Commercial real estate experts in the area say the nearly $107,000 awarded in court for the land was unusually high.

"Industrial land in that area is generally sold around $1 or $2 per square foot," said George Roddy, owner of Roddy Informational Services, which has researched commercial real estate in Texas for 35 years. What Miers was paid was closer to $5 per square foot.....

which is pretty good Considering the land was also contaminated with toxic chemicals:

The market value of the Mierses' land may have been depressed because it is located within a federal Superfund site that was contaminated by an old lead smelter. The smelter crushed and recycled batteries - and spewed toxic lead dust on surrounding properties - for 50 years until it closed in 1984.

The Mierses' property is about a mile away from the site of the smelter, which has since been torn down.

So the state was looking for a small slice of completely empty unusable, land and even increased their initial offer by 1000% to try to get the land by consent. However, then City Councilwoman Harriet decided to take her chances in Court instead. But the record shows it really wasn't much of risk after all:

First she'd paid good money for the Judge:

Campaign finance reports in Dallas show that Miers' law firm, Locke Purnell Rain & Harrell, had contributed at least $5,000 to Evans' political campaigns between 1993 and 2001. That included a $3,000 contribution in 1998, the year before the Miers condemnation case landed in Evans' court.

And she was pretty tight with the "independent commissioner" he appointed:

Texas law says that in condemnation cases, a judge must appoint three "disinterested" special commissioners to hear evidence, determine the "injury or benefit" of the state's action to the property owner, and rule on what, if anything, the state should pay for the property.

But there was an accumulation of shared interests - dating back years - among several of the parties that assembled in state District Judge David Evans' courtroom to settle the Miers case.

One of the three commissioners whom Evans appointed to hear the case was Peggy Lundy, a professional associate and political ally of Miers.

In an interview Thursday, Lundy said she and Miers worked closely together on a commission set up to restructure Dallas' municipal court system.

"That's where I got to see her up close and see how terrific she is," Lundy said. {the Best Lawyer ever?-ed.}...

"I had a nice, professional relationship with her," Lundy said.

Lundy added that she recruited Evans to run for judge and served as the treasurer of his first campaign and as an adviser to several others.

Evans also appointed one of his campaign contributors, Cathie Adams, to work on Miers' case. At the time, she was president of the Dallas Eagle Forum, a politically active conservative organization that touts its "pro-family" agenda.

Adams said in an interview Thursday that she believed Evans picked her as a commissioner because of her strong views against the government's "taking of land."

"I don't like it," she said of condemnation, or eminent domain, proceedings. Such cases should be "rare," Adams added, and only if the government is willing to pay a stiff price

Now to be fair that award was later reduced somewhat, But it seems that Just like her Texas and DC bar dues Harriet clean forgot to send the money back:

Mediation in 2003 reduced the award from $106,915 to $80,915, but Miers, who controls the family's interest in the land, has not reimbursed the state for the $26,000 difference, even after Bush nominated her for the Supreme Court.


Scott Young, the Dallas lawyer who represented the Miers family in the case, never signed the settlement papers, and Miers never repaid the difference.

"I don't know why... it has been as long as it has," Young said. And, he said, "the state hasn't been pressing us" for the money.

And that of course seems totally normal. Why I know when I owe the government money, they are totally lackadaisical about getting to from me as well:

"Your taxes? Do you owe us money?, Oh I guess you do! . Gee we'd totally spaced on that, thanks though"

So why should we care about a decades old land deal ?(haven't I heard that phrase somewhere before?) well see:

Supreme Court justices, unlike other government officials, define potential conflicts of interest for themselves and are responsible for policing their own ethics.

"If Harriet Miers is confirmed, she'll be entrusted to make a large number of unreviewable decisions about which cases to sit on," said Douglas T. Kendall, executive director of Community Rights Counsel, a public-interest law firm in Washington. Kendall said the fact that Miers raised no red flags in the face of "clearly disturbing facts" in the land-condemnation case doesn't say much for her ethical acumen.

So there we have it. The silver bullet that kills the Miers Nomination with a minimal loss of face for the administration. A few horrified looks, a few declarations of how "shocked" they were to discover that Harriet "failed to use better judgment" , and out the door she goes. The only question is, who fires it first: the Left or the Right?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

No immunity for Cheney : Bork DOJ memo says VP can be indicted

This is all a game of "What if " right now.  But is a gloriously gleeful game that raises all sorts of interesting legal and philosophical questions.    For Cheney the 1st question  has always been "can he even BE indicted?"  

He is after all the Co Vice President.   Well the good news is:" Yes He Can".  

 IF Ol' Tricky Dick Cheney were to find himself staring at the business end of an indictment this week, he   Won't be able to shake it off simply by invoking executive privilege to save his sorry hide.  At least that is conclusion reached in  1973, in an official DOJ opinion written nearly 25 years ago.  which was again endorsed by the DOJ in 2000

Of course conservatives will immediately attack the validity of the memo since it was written by none other than Noted Liberal Moonbat, Robert Bork---yes THAT Robert Bork:

Let's take a look:
(from the 2000 memo)

Office of Legal Counsel ("OLC") prepared a comprehensive memorandum in the fall of 1973 that analyzed whether all federal civil officers are immune from indictment or criminal prosecution while in office, and, if not, whether the President and Vice President in particular are immune from indictment or criminal prosecution while in office...

The OLC memorandum concluded that all federal civil officers except the President are subject to indictment and criminal prosecution while still in office; the President is uniquely immune from such process.


And the memo has already been used against a sitting Vice president specifically:

On October 5, 1973, less than two weeks after OLC issued its memorandum, Solicitor General Robert Bork filed a brief in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland that addressed the question whether it would be constitutional to indict or criminally try a sitting President. Then-Vice President Agnew had moved to enjoin, principally on constitutional grounds, grand jury proceeding against him. See SG Brief at 3. In response to this motion, Solicitor General Bork provided the court with a brief that set forth "considerations based upon the Constitution's text, history, and rationale which indicate that all civil officers of the United States other than the President are amenable to the federal criminal process either before or after the conclusion of impeachment proceedings.

   As had the OLC memorandum, the Solicitor General's brief began by noting that "[t]he Constitution provides no explicit immunity from criminal sanctions for any civil officer."....In light of the textual omission of any express grant of immunity from criminal process for civil officers generally, "it would require a compelling constitutional argument to erect such an immunity for a Vice President." Id.

And the memo proved there was no such compelling argument to be made:

[t]he President's immunity rests not only upon the matters just discussed but also upon his unique constitutional position and powers . . . . There are substantial reasons, embedded not only in the constitutional framework but in the exigencies of government, for distinguishing in this regard between the President and all lesser officers including the Vice President.

The brief therefore determined that "[c]ertainly it is clear that criminal indictment, trial, and even conviction of a Vice President would not, ipso facto, cause his removal; subjection of a Vice President to the criminal process therefore does not violate the exclusivity of the impeachment power as the means of his removal from office." Id. at 13.

In fact, they concluded we could get along just fine without him:

Although the office of the Vice Presidency is of course a high one, it is not indispensable to the orderly operation of government. There have been many occasions in our history when the nation lacked a Vice President, and yet suffered no ill consequences. And, as has been discussed above, at least one Vice President successfully fulfilled the responsibilities of his office while under indictment in two states.

Id. at 18 (citation omitted). The brief noted that the Vice President had only three constitutional functions: to replace the President in certain extraordinary circumstances; to make, in certain extraordinary circumstances, a written declaration of the President's inability to discharge the powers and duties of his office; and to preside over the Senate and cast the deciding vote in the case of a tie in that body. Id. at 19. None of these "constitutional functions is substantially impaired by [the Vice President's] liability to the criminal process." Id.

In other words the WH may have some other tricks up its sleeve but hiding behind executive or constitutional privilege ain't gonna work.  

Now if we could just make with the indictin' and frog-marchin' and whatnot.....

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Frist Fraud worth Over 6 Million!

Happy Schadenfreude Day!

While Tommy the Hammer is staring down the wrong side of a criminal indictment, new and damaging information  continues to dribble  out about the Republican Leader of the other chamber, and friends it looks like  he is in deep shit.

It seems that Bill "I play a doctor on videotape" Frist's little "Martha problem"

ain't so little after all:  

A new analysis by [the] Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has found that Senator Frist made between $2 and $6 million by selling his HCA holdings just before stocks plummeted in the face of a bad earnings report.

Martha, as you may recall went to the slammer for a mere $50,000 in ill-gotten profits.  And all she did was sell the stock based on insider knowledge,   Dr. Bill May have done a whole lot more:

In addition, overly rosy earnings projections made by HCA executives just as Frist and HCA insiders were disposing of the stock en masse, point to a cover-up by insiders intent on keeping stock prices high until a disappointing earnings report surfaced.

And that, dear friends points to MUCH more serious crimes like  Market manipulation, and fraud which will get you into a whole lot more trouble than simple insider information charges.    

Put, simply the Boys in  HCA boardroom  were running a multi-billion dollar version of the famous Pump and Dump scam that lowlife boiler room operators use to pump up the value of obscure penny stocks.   They put out an incredibly optimistic earnings report to attract investors and drive the stock price up, just as they were all planning to dump their own holdings, thus netting them millions of extra dollars.   The fact that Frist chose to sell his portfolio at the very same time, and himself snagged an extra $2-6 mil on the sale now becomes highly suspicious.  

Especially because as his earlier trust documents reveal (there's a direct link to them in the article but my work filter is blocking access to the site);  Bill Frist used to LOVE him some HCA stock:

Frist trust agreements made public today by Consumerwatchdog.org also show that since the founding of his trust, Senator Frist directed trustees not to sell his HCA stock. Each of the Senator's trust agreements acknowledged their high concentration in HCA stock, and specifically relieved trustees `from any obligation the Trustee might otherwise have to diversify the investments

This is HUGE.  First, it shows that until the sudden decision to sell all of his  HCA stock Frist hadn't allowed his trustees to part with so much as a single share.   Secondly, it proves his trust wasn't really blind at all.

A blind trust is supposed to work like this:  you put your assets into the trust, and the trustee are supposed to manage those asets according to the normal rules of investments.  They can buy whatever they think is appropriate, and sell off whatever is prudently necessary to keep a nice, safe, balanced portfolio for their client.   The beneficiary of the trust is not supposed to know anything about these transactions, or his specific holdings, just a general idea of his total worth.

But that is NOT what happened here.   Here Frist told his  trustees that they were to ignore the basic rules and duties of a Trustee and not sell ANY of his major asset, the HCA stock.  This meant that Frist not only had a massively unbalanced and undiversified portfolio (a cardinal sin to most financial planners), but he could easily track his holdings since his trustees weren't allowed to dispose of them.

This makes his sudden attack of conscience about conflicts of interest, and decision to sell the stock HIGHLY suspicious.

Update [2005-9-28 15:32:37 by Magorn]:
HOW suspicious? Well, Look at >this stock chart

(thanks to Devin for finding it, and hosting it)

Note the strange rise that occurs in June after a general decline in April and May. Now keep in mind that the date of Frist massive sell off is somewhere between July 1-9, After the mysterious increase

Now click this chart

Less than a week after Frist has completed his stock dump, on July 15th, HCA stock loses 9% of its Value in One Day.

When you factor this into the timing of the dump, suddenly  it seems like  the Frist probe could be sailing him into  very deep and troubled waters indeed.

Update [2005-9-28 14:58:36 by Magorn]:
Best one liner of the Scandal now goes to Rep. Rahm Emmanuel of Ill: "Bill Frist has this all upside down, he thought Terri Schiavo could see and his trust was blind."