Local attorneys split on high court nominee

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by Karen Ali
The Danbury News-Times

October 4, 2005

Harriet Miers' lack of judicial experience doesn't seem to be much of a concern to President Bush.

Several Connecticut lawyers, however, say they aren't sure if Miers' resume is stellar enough to earn a position on the country's highest court.

The lawyers said Monday they are glad Bush chose a woman to replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, they are concerned with Miers' scant judicial experience.

They also wonder what a Miers appointment would mean for civil rights and civil liberties.

Linda Meyer, who was a clerk for O'Connor in 1991 and 1992, isn't sure if Miers has the "intense intellect" needed to serve on the country's highest court.

"She doesn't have the kind of record that speaks for itself," Meyer said. "It's not the type of resume you'd expect to see.

"It's hard to find any distinguishing marks here," said Meyer, a professor who teaches criminal law and procedure at Quinnipiac University School of Law, where she also holds a symposium on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meyer said Miers is not in the same league as John Roberts, who presided over his first day as chief justice on Monday.

While Miers appears to be a good "people person," there isn't evidence she can "think through constitutional issues," Meyer said.

Sometimes, in the case of a weak justice, the justice's clerk can take over, Meyer said. "I've seen the clerks kind of run the justices," Meyer said.

The danger in that is instead of the justice's opinion, the country would get the opinion of a legal neophyte who doesn't have life experience or perspective that a justice has, Meyer said.

Danbury civil lawyer Gregory Klein said he's pleased Bush picked a woman to take O'Connor's seat.

"However, since she does not have a paper trail of written judicial opinions, nobody knows what kind of justice Miers will make, and her qualifications are not as immediately apparent as were John Roberts'."

Michael Koskoff, a civil lawyer from Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder of Danbury and Bridgeport, said her "main qualification is she is a reliable Bush associate, so I am very concerned," Koskoff said.

Koskoff said he's not especially worried Miers doesn't have experience as a judge. "What's lacking here is credibility. The best that Bush could think of to say about her is she is a pit bull. What relevance does being a pit bull have to being a Supreme Court justice?"

"I'm very worried about denigrating the respectability of this court. Whether you are on the right side or the left, there is a certain competence that is there, and this appears to be the potential watering-down of that competence," Koskoff said. "She has good social skills, which is good. But where's the meat?"

Yet, not everyone is worried about her lack of experience on the bench.

Danbury civil and criminal lawyer Joseph Dimyan said even though Miers doesn't have a great deal of "courtroom experience," it's might not be necessary for her to be a great judge. Dimyan pointed out Ellen Ash Peters didn't have any experience as a judge before she became Connecticut's top justice, but "she was great."

A chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, Peters was a former law professor at Yale University.

According to the White House, 10 of the 34 Justices appointed since 1933 came from within the president's administration, not from the judicial branch. Former chief justice William H. Rehnquist is one justice who never served on the bench.

Danbury civil lawyer Debbie Grover, a member of the Danbury Bar Association, said getting to the top position of the State Bar of Texas and the Dallas Bar Association "says a lot about" Miers.

"It isn't easy for a female to hold the role as the first one," Grover said.