Radical Judicial Nominee Jack McConnell’s Disturbing ACORN Connections
posted at 1:50 pm on June 2, 2010 by Anita MonCrief
“If you make a mess, you have to help clean it up”, John “Jack” McConnell said in his opening statement in a case that would have lasting and costly effects. From the looks of things McConnell and his friends may need a mop because there is a trail of corruption originating from Rhode Island that has spread to DC and polluted the country. McConnell’s nomination for the Rhode Island’s federal court reeks of backroom deals and paybacks.
“President Barack Obama nominated Jack McConnell in March for a spot on the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island. He was recommended by the state’s two senators, Democrats Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.”
The Heritage Foundation explains McConnell’s background:
“Another of McConnell ‘s claims to fame is the lead paint litigation in Rhode Island and Wisconsin. In Rhode Island, McConnell’s law firm shopped a lawsuit against the former makers of lead paint to Whitehouse, when the latter was that state’s Attorney General. Whitehouse’s successor ratified a decision that Whitehouse made and contracted out the state’s power to sue in the public interest to McConnell’s law firm. In the lawsuit, which McConnell considers one of his most significant, the state sought an order directing the companies to abate lead pigment in all buildings in Rhode Island that were accessible to children on the ground that the buildings were a ‘public nuisance.’
The Rhode Island Supreme Court recognized that lead poisoning was a serious public health problem, but declined to play the role of the legislature and create a new cause of action to address it, as McConnell ‘s lawsuit wanted it to do.”
Have angry mob, will travel
Naturally, when there is an opportunity to exploit the situation, attack business, and make some money, ACORN is not far behind. As so called leaders in the ‘social justice’ movement, ACORN was active in lead paint initiative early on. Whether it was state and local grants or lucrative partnerships, ACORN was ready to sign on. In the case of Rhode Island, ACORN formed an alliance with an organization called the Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP). CLAP was instrumental in pushing the litigation in Ohio and joined with ACORN to file an amicus brief on behalf of McConnell’s case.
A one time partnership on a case of mutual interest can be overlooked but ACORN and the Childhood Lead Action Project teamed up on a number of projects including
The Childhood Lead Action Project presented Jack McConnell with the Above and Beyond the Call of Duty Award and McConnell’s firm Motley & Rice LLC. donated funds to CLAP.
Steal from the rich and give to the liberal rich.
With ACORN organizing protests across the country against McConnell’s target Sherwin-Williams, the “advocacy group” was able to maintain leverage over negotiations and even described their motives to a gathering of staff in December of 2006:
“As an outgrowth of the neighborhood lead-based campaigns in recent years, the profile of our lead work leaped forward targeting giant paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams. Legal settlements in Rhode Island most notably gave us encouragement that some level of victory was possible in finally winning remediation for the impacts of lead paint.
The initial gamut of the company and others was to attempt to force us to tread water with the trade association, but meetings won through early actions produced nothing. Amy Schur, directing this effort, was vigilant, and having dogged them all year, has constructed a legal strategy with ALERT and the Cachet firm that has now brought the cities of San Diego and Los Angeles into the lawsuit.”
Read more on page 31 of the ACORN 2006 YEYB Report.
ACORN insiders go on to describe how the organization is more concerned about using the lawsuits to force a monetary settlement for the organization than for removing lead paint (emphasis mine):
“We knew going into this campaign that we faced a particular challenge in the current environment. They can settle with ACORN, but still haven’t gotten rid of their biggest problem – the city and state lawsuits.
Over the last 6 months our primary strategy has been to demonstrate to Sherwin-Williams that ACORN has the capacity to compound their legal problems, primarily by getting more cities and states to sue. While right now there is a chance that the company’s legal problems will grow significantly, ACORN’s work could almost ensure that this would be the case. So, deal with ACORN to take out that factor, and they might hope to beat back the worst of what could come.
Sherwin-Williams hasn’t wanted to deal, so we now either give up or make good on our threat. The problem is, while we can get more state lawsuits moving, and these very well may lead to the homes in our neighborhoods being made lead safe, securing the final victory is in the hands of the AG’s and how do we benefit organizationally?
Luck would have it that the major CA lawsuit against the paint industry is being handled by the same law firm handling our Wells Fargo case – and they want to work together on the lead case. Over the last month we have been able to convince several major CA cities and school districts to join the lawsuit. In a potentially important precedent for our role in these types of cases, we are in the final stages of negotiating a seat for ALERT (ACORN Law for Education, Representation & Training) on the legal team for the case, which puts us at the table – and in the settlement negotiations.”
ACORN’s above statement raises questions as to whether McConnell was candid to Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas when Cornyn “a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked John McConnell Jr. if it was appropriate for a lawyer to solicit a school board as a client in a lead paint lawsuit even if the district is not sure its schools contain lead paint.”
Written Questions from Sen. John Cornyn and Written Answers from Nominee John McConnell Jr.
16. Attached as Exhibit A is an August 2, 2000 memorandum from a Texas plaintiffs’ law firm to Texas school board members lobbying the school board to join a lead based paint remediation lawsuit that was headed by Ness Motley, predecessor to Motley Rice LLC and your firm at the time.
a. Do you believe that it is appropriate for a lawyer to solicit a school board as a client in a lead-based paint remediation lawsuit if the district is not aware whether district school buildings have lead-based paint and is not aware of any past remediation costs?
b. Do you believe that it is appropriate for a lawyer, in soliciting a school board as a client in a lead-based paint remediation lawsuit, to assure the district that if it recovers funds for lead-based paint remediation, those funds do not have to be spent on lead-based paint remediation, but may be placed in the general maintenance and operations fund and used for any appropriate purpose?
c. Did you or any attorneys with your firm help prepare the attached memorandum or the resolution attached thereto? If so, please identify who helped in the preparation.
Response: I have never seen the memo that is Attachment A and know nothing about the circumstances of the preparation or distribution of this document. I made diligent inquiry of members of my firm and they advised that they also did not have any involvement with this memo.
Amazingly the ACORN idea of targeting school districts for potential clients in lead paint litigation was used by Motley Rice, though no one cal recall doing so. More interestingly, according to court documents, Motley Rice was also involved in the California lead paint case ACORN was working on.
How much is that AG in the window?
While its no secret that McConnell is a top donor to the Democrats, it should be noted that McConnell’s firm Motley Rice has given tens of thousands to Senator Whitehouse.
However, the question is whether he worked with ACORN on the lead paint lawsuit. In addition to the connection through CLAP, ACORN and McConnell’s share one powerful friend. United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) recommended McConnell for the Rhode Island federal court vacancy and he and McConnell have a long friendship
In 1999 Sheldon Whitehouse was attorney general of Rhode Island when he first:
“ initiated a lawsuit against the lead paint industry that ended in a mistrial; the state later won a second lawsuit against former lead paint manufacturers Sherwin Williams Co., Millennium Holdings and NL Industries that found them responsible for creating a public nuisance. However, this decision was unanimously overturned by the Rhode Island Supreme Court on July 1, 2008. The Court found that it is the responsibility of the property owners to abate and mitigate lead hazards (as specified by Rhode Island statute).”
ACORN and its coalition partners had tried a number of strategies before relying on the “all politics is local” mantra and employing the skills of politicians like Whitehouse who obviously had aspirations for higher office. ACORN’s strategy was clear and state attorney generals were a key component of the plan. ACORN stated it would:
Work to find a second large law firm willing to develop a partnership along the lines of the one being negotiated in CA and get several more state AG’s (or cities) to work with us on a lawsuit strategy.
On page 258 of the same report ACORN finished its tale of corporate shakedowns by declaring “we plan on nothing less than a Rhode-Island style win!”
Whitehouse and McConnell worked closely on the Rhode Island lead paint case while the attorney general continued to curry favor with ACORN. In March of 2007 Senator Whitehouse proudly attended an ACORN rally in Washington DC where an ACORN leader stated:
“We need things for the needy and not the greedy,’ said New York ACORN President Pat Boone at the rally. ‘Congress must act now to appropriate $450 billion and fully fund these vital domestic programs, rejecting outrageous and unnecessary tax breaks for wealthy individuals.”
Whitehouse was also instrumental in using the Alberto Gonzalez scandal to politically align the stars for ACORN affiliate Project Vote. A mere two months before Project Vote released – to much fanfare and finger pointing at the right – its report Caging Democracy: A 50-Year History of Partisan Challenges to Minority Voters, Whitehouse paved the way with a provocative letter to the Department of Justice.
Reliable ACORN Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) “asked the Justice Department to investigate the alleged ‘caging’ of predominantly African American voters in Jacksonville, Florida by the RNC in 2004.” Rhode Island and Massachusetts are liberal testing grounds for what Project Vote called its “experiments.” Groups like ACORN pushed fusion voting, living wages and lead paint campaigns through areas filled with ACORN friendly politicians.
In 2008 Senator Whitehouse again delivered for ACORN by introducing a bill aimed at fulfilling Project Vote’s action items on voter caging:
Voter Participation – ACORN is committed to helping all citizens exercise their rights to participate in the electoral process by registering people to vote. This election year, ACORN is committed to ensuring that citizens be able to register and cast their votes without fear of harassment and intimidation from dirty political tricks such as voter caging. Prohibiting voter caging, which a New York Times editorial this week called “a little known but pernicious technique,” is the goal of bills introduced in the Senate by Sheldon Whitehouse (S. 2305) and in the House by John Conyers (H.R. 2305). ACORN members will be lobbying their representatives to sign on in support of the bills.
“But you’d have to be paying close attention to know about two of the president’s craziest choices for the federal district courts, Wisconsin’s Louis Butler and Rhode Island’s Jack McConnell.
President Obama nominated Butler last year, but the Senate returned Butler’s nomination without action after it passed through the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote; the president resubmitted the nomination on January 20 of this year.
…In 2005, Butler authored a split opinion for the court in Thomas v. Mallet, which permitted lawsuits against the manufacturers of paint that may have contained lead, even absent proof that any individual manufacturer’s paint had been used by the person or persons filing the lawsuit.
This expanded Wisconsin law to embrace the theory of “market-share liability,” a doctrine accepted in California regarding litigation against manufacturers of the anti-morning-sickness drug diethylstilbestrol but overwhelmingly rejected in other jurisdictions and contexts thereafter.”
Recently Obama’s Environmental Protection agency passed new restrictions modeled after the Rhode Island and Wisconsin cases:
A new federal rule aimed at reducing exposure to toxic lead-paint chips and dust requires renovators to be trained and certified in EPA-approved methods of containing and cleaning up work areas.
…The EPA estimates that its new rule will add $8 to $167 to the cost of the average interior remodeling job, but contractors say the expense to homeowners will be much greater. “The EPA has grossly underestimated the costs to comply on any job. I can see my labor costs go up by thousands of dollars.”
It appears as though ACORN and the “environmental justice” movement secured a major victory despite losing the court cases because the main goal was not a local victory. ACORN and other organizations wanted to impose national restrictions totaling billions and by using small states like Rhode Island ACORN was able to secure a temporary victory whose momentum could be used to enact national changes.
From little ACORN attorneys powerful politicians grow
If federal judgeships are for sale, “‘the massive campaign contributions…approaching $700,000 over the past two decades’—by McConnell and his wife to [Senator Jack] Reed, [Senator Sheldon] Whitehouse, and an array of other Democrats” might entitle him to one. But judgeships should not be for sale and it is apparent that McConnell would be a “liberal judicial activist” and rule based on his personal empathy and political views instead of follow the law.
McConnell’s involvement in lead paint cases in Ohio, Wisconsin and California without any overt mention of ACORN’s work raises several red flags. What is McConnell hiding and has he been truly honest about his connections to ACORN. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time an ACORN lawyer with powerful friends was able to get a job he wasn’t qualified for.