How a Former Prisoner Took Down a Big Shot from the Private Prison Industry (and Cheney Pal)
Continued from previous page
While most ex-prisoners prefer to put their prison experiences behind them, Friedmann felt the problems he witnessed in the criminal justice system -- particularly in regard to private prisons -- could not be forgotten.
Following his release on November 1, 1999, Friedmann worked for several law offices, using the legal skills he learned while incarcerated. He served one year with Reconciliation, a non-profit agency that advocates on behalf of prisoners' families and children, and became involved in criminal justice issues ranging from felon disenfranchisement to restorative justice. He has volunteered as a trained mediator, and returned to prison as a visitor as part of an Inside/Out program.
Continuing his anti-private prison activism, Friedmann joined the Private Corrections Institute ( www.privateci.org), a Florida-based watchdog group that opposes the privatization of correctional services, where he serves in an unpaid capacity as vice president.
Friedmann was hired by Prison Legal News in 2005 as PLN's full-time associate editor; his responsibilities include news research, editing, website support and a variety of other tasks. He contributed a chapter to PLN's third anthology, Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Imprisonment, and has spoken on justice-related topics at Yale University, an annual meeting of the National Lawyers Guild, and Critical Resistance; at legislative committee hearings in two states; and before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Identifying the Issues
In June 2007, an article about Puryear's judicial nomination crossed Friedmann's desk. After discussing the nomination with other criminal justice advocates, the general consensus was little could be done. Candidates for U.S. District Court positions are perceived as less important than those for the appellate courts or Supreme Court, and tend to sail through Senate Judiciary Committee hearings with little opposition.
Still, Friedmann did not want the nomination to go unchallenged; he believed Puryear was an unsuitable candidate for an appointment to the federal bench, beyond the moral issue that as a CCA executive Puryear profited from people's incarceration.
Further, U.S. District Courts decide the vast majority of cases in the federal court system, as the appellate courts issue relatively few rulings and the Supreme Court hears only a fractional number of cases. Thus, the district courts are arguably the most important rung on the federal judicial ladder, as they guard the entrance to the courthouse door.
"District court judges make life-and-death decisions on a regular basis, e.g. in capital punishment cases, and the appellate courts often give deference to fact finding by the district courts," Friedmann noted.
Delving into Puryear's background through LEXIS and Westlaw searches, reviewing court dockets and related research, Friedmann developed a list of issues that could be raised in an opposition campaign.
Those issues included: 1) Puryear's conflicts of interest in cases involving CCA, 2) his lack of litigation and trial experience, 3) the politically partisan nature of his nomination, 4) his questionable objectivity in prisoner lawsuits, 5) his concealment of information from the public, and 6) his membership in a discriminatory country club.
After some deliberation, Friedmann added one final issue -- Puryear's involvement in an investigation and litigation related to the death of Estelle Richardson, a female prisoner who died at a CCA jail. As it turned out, the Estelle Richardson case would prove to be one of the most important elements of the opposition campaign.
Conflict of Interest? What Conflict of Interest?
Puryear was nominated to serve as a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee -- the same jurisdiction where CCA is headquartered, where hundreds of lawsuits against the company are filed.