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17 October 2005

gambling sludge from Texas about Supreme Court nominee Miers

I know these state Lottery games I'm playing are honest, because these are the kinds of folks who run them. Soon one of these Lottery Straight Arrows will/might/may be sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court. I wonder what the odds will be for anybody to get a fair shake in front of the Supreme Court after it gets Texified. Harriett Miers is sort of like a Lottery drawing ping-pong ball without a Number painted on it. You just have to take it on Faith that she's not a Zero.

Almost everything Harriet Miers has done as a lawyer is, essentially, secret -- appropriately -- because of lawyer-client confidentiality.

Her stint as chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission is the rare exception; as a public agency and a public servant, the public and press have certain rights to peek through the window and see what she was doing.

She does seem to have a lot of experience with lawsuits.

If her nomination and Senate confirmation hearings were a strip tease, this is her taking off her long white gloves very slowly.


The Austin American-Statesman (Austin, Texas USA)
Monday 17 October 2005

Miers' stint with lottery
full of strife

Views differ on whether Supreme Court nominee caused storms or charted course through them.


WASHINGTON -- Harriet Miers moves toward Senate confirmation hearings as the only U.S. Supreme Court nominee who ever headed a multibillion-dollar numbers game.

As chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission from 1995 to 2000, Miers was the high-profile traffic cop at the perilous intersection of government and gambling.

Because most of her legal career is shrouded by presidential and attorney-client privilege, Miers' stint as Texas Lottery Commission chairwoman provides more public record than any other facet of her career.

Today, in the Oval Office, a former fellow Lottery Commission member will endorse Miers as a great choice for the Supreme Court. Houston lawyer John Hill, invited to the White House in his capacity as a former Texas Supreme Court chief justice, recently said Miers' tenure on the Lottery Commission showed that she was a steady hand.

"Those were tough times," Hill said. "We had a lot of problems, and we worked through a lot of problems."

Those who delve into Miers' lottery years will find a story spiced with political intrigue and rife with charges and countercharges lodged by and involving a colorful cast of characters -- and, tangentially, a story involving President Bush's much-discussed National Guard service.

In nominating Miers, Bush said, he put his longtime friend and lawyer in charge of the three-member Lottery Commission because the agency needed "a leader of unquestioned integrity."

Although in Bush's eyes, Miers' integrity remained intact during her stormy tenure on the commission, it did not go unquestioned.

Two lawsuits filed by fired lottery directors, both settled without trial, painted Miers as a political hack.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Miers, who is declining interviews, "would welcome the opportunity to discuss her time" at the Lottery Commission and how she navigated it through scandal if the subject comes up during her Senate confirmation.

A Texas Republican consultant who watched the commission up close said such scrutiny would prove interesting.

"There was no scandal when she first went there. The scandal was more than a year away," said the source, who did not want to jeopardize his career by commenting on the record. "In terms of cleaning it up, that's in the eye of the beholders. Some people would say yes. Other people would say the way she did things created even more problems."

But Hill, a former Texas attorney general as well as Supreme Court chief justice, said Miers was a top-notch commissioner.

"I found her to be very, very fair and very thorough and a calm presence in a stormy situation," said Hill, the Democrats' unsuccessful 1978 gubernatorial candidate.

Hill, a Democrat who supports Bush, was appointed by Bush to the lottery panel.

The lottery problems played out over several years and were triggered partly by a federal conviction in New Jersey of a former top executive for Gtech, a Rhode Island-based lottery industry giant that has had the lucrative contract to operate the Texas Lottery since it began in 1992.

David Smith, Gtech's former national sales director, was convicted in 1996 of participating in a kickback and embezzlement scheme involving consultants and lobbyists with the kind of political clout useful in getting and keeping lottery contracts.

A pre-sentencing report in the case brought Texas into play by alleging that Smith had taken kickbacks from Gtech's top Texas consultants, Ben Barnes and Ricky Knox.

Barnes and Knox denied wrongdoing and were never charged. They also complained about being named in the report, and a federal judge later ordered the prosecutor to apologize for doing so.

But the report piqued Miers' curiosity, and the Lottery Commission began asking questions about Gtech's Texas operations.

Miers vs. Linares

In January 1997, the commission fired Director Nora Linares after it was revealed that a longtime friend, now her husband, secretly had worked as a Gtech consultant, something Linares insisted she knew nothing about.

Linares sued Gtech and the commission. Both suits were settled out of court with no admissions of wrongdoing. Gtech paid her $435,000.

The suit against the commission accused Miers and the commission of playing politics and going after "the highest ranking Hispanic female appointed executive officer in Texas" but subjecting her to "rumor, innuendoes and trumped-up charges."

Miers, according to the suit, was "quick and reckless in her accusations against" Linares and engaged in "politically motivated grandstanding."

"Instead of seeking the truth in a professional and nonpartisan manner, however, the commission, led by its chair, proceeded with a Roman circus event where Ms. Linares was the 'Christian' to be fed to the lions," the lawsuit said.

The commission denied wrongdoing in the battle, which was thick with political overtones. Miers was the appointee of a Republican governor with White House ambitions. Linares was a longtime Democratic operative who got the lottery job when Democrats controlled Texas government. One of her lawyers was Charles Soechting, now chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Miers vs. Gtech

At the heart of the lottery intrigue was the contract that brought Gtech more than $150 million a year, about 15 percent of the company's considerable worldwide revenue.

Gtech, ascribing nefarious motives to the commission, opted in 1997 not to submit a bid when the commission decided to cancel the existing contract. Gtech filed a lawsuit alleging that the commission reneged on a five-year extension that ran through 2002.

The lawsuit said the process was "tainted by bias," including Lottery Director Lawrence Littwin's previous employment by a company interested in wresting the contract from Gtech.

A former Gtech official now says Miers "was brought in to do anything she could to make Gtech's life difficult."

"She certainly did that by canceling our contract," said the former executive, who would not comment on the record because his employer would not be happy about his criticism of a Supreme Court nominee. "What she didn't anticipate was being outsmarted and outflanked by us."

In April 1998, after 17 months of lawsuits, investigations, allegations and firings, the commission wound up where it started, deciding to keep the Gtech contract intact.

"I do not see any reason for us to renegotiate," Miers said.

Hill said Miers had no ulterior motives when she served on the commission, other than to do what was best for the state.

"There were no improper motives I know of about any of the decisions we made," Hill said. "They were just decisions made on what we thought were the facts before us."

Miers vs. Littwin

Littwin's brief stint as director while Miers was chairwoman raised eyebrows and ended in litigation.

He got the job after Linares was fired. With his New York accent and penchant for independent fact-finding, he was something less than a natural fit in Texas government. He was fired after about four months, just after digging around in public records to see if Gtech had been illegally making contributions to politicians.

Littwin sued Gtech, claiming that the company orchestrated his demise. Although Gtech officials thought Miers was out to get them, Littwin's lawsuit said just the opposite was true.

The commission, he alleged, operated under marching orders to protect Gtech because of consultant Barnes' personal knowledge of how a young George W. Bush got into the Texas Air National Guard when many men his age were being sent to Vietnam.

Barnes gave a deposition in the case and issued a statement in which, for the first time, he acknowledged that as Texas House speaker in the 1960s he helped Bush get into the Guard at the behest of a family friend.

Under pressure from the Lottery Commission, Gtech severed its ties with Barnes and Knox by paying them $23 million in February 1997. The payoff raised a few eyebrows, but lottery commissioners were convinced the money was coming out of Gtech's pocket.

Gtech settled with Littwin, paying him $300,000 in an agreement that includes a $50,000 penalty if Littwin talks publicly about the case. Littwin said he would be glad to tell senators what he knows about Miers' stint at the commission.

Hill categorizes as "total baloney" any talk about Bush wanting to keep Gtech happy to keep Barnes from talking about the Guard history.

"She never once mentioned Bush or how things might affect the administration," Hill said of Miers. "We just tried to ride the bucking horse."

- 30 -

Copyright 2001-2005 Cox Texas Newspapers, L.P. All rights reserved.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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