Whether or not one supports Carly Fiorina for the Republican nomination for the US Senate race in California, the latest attack on her is a cheap shot aimed by a sore-loser trial lawyer that falls apart even under the mildest scrutiny. That doesn’t stop Politico from highlighting it, and it probably won’t stop it from going viral. It attacks Fiorina through her dead father, a judge on the Ninth Circuit, in a judgment that eventually was endorsed by the Supreme Court:
California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina was negotiating for a lucrative job as CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. a decade ago at the same time her father wrote a significant appeals court opinion that the high-tech industry had aggressively lobbied for, a new book reports.
In July 1999, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Joseph Sneed, Fiorina’s father, issued a ruling that made it far more difficult for class-action lawyers to file securities lawsuits. Breaking with two other courts of appeals, Sneed said a legal reform Congress passed in 1995 at the urging of high-tech executives besieged by such suits meant plaintiffs needed solid evidence of wrongdoing before they went to court.
Seventeen days later, Fiorina was named as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard with a compensation packaged valued at the time at between $80 million and $90 million.
Okay … so? The case didn’t involve HP as a litigant. Fiorina didn’t get the job until after her father ruled on the case, which makes it a little difficult to imagine how any allegation of influence would have worked. If HP wanted to influence Judge Sneed (for a case that didn’t involve their corporation), wouldn’t they have hired his daughter before he issued his decision?
This attack comes mainly from the attorney who lost his appeal, Bill Lerach, who made millions in stockholder lawsuits:
“This guy had no business deciding this case,” the book quotes an infuriated Lerach as declaring after he learned about the family connection. “This is a tainted precedent,” he said, noting that the same law firm defending the case, Wilson Sonsini, also hashed out Fiorina’s compensation package with HP.
Fiorina denies talking to her father about negotiating with HP. At the time Sneed heard the case — and indeed at the time Sneed decided the case — his family didn’t have any connections to HP. Sneed had no reason to recuse himself from the appeal.
As for it being a tainted precedent, the Supreme Court disagreed:
Sneed died in 2008 at age 87. His opinion in the 1999 case drew a dissent from one judge on the three-judge panel, but came out roughly where the Supreme Court wound up when it considered similar issues in 2007.
The real story here is that the Ninth Circuit actually produced a decision that didn’t get overturned by the Supreme Court. The only relevance this thinly-veiled allegation of influence peddling aimed at Fiorina and the now-deceased Judge Sneed has is to the man who lost the opportunity to shake down companies for billions of dollars. The timing of the publication of this book seems clearly intended to either kneecap Fiorina’s campaign, or at the least to make a few bucks off of her dead father’s reputation. It stinks.