Miers' Law Firm Work Included Media Law Issues

Article excerpt

ANALYSIS

While working at her Dallas law firm, she helped Morning News reporters fight subpoenas and worked on prepublication review of news stories.

Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination after the magazine went to press. Please visit www.rcfp.wg to see our report on nominee Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers may have a thin paper trail, but she has one media law credential that probably no other Supreme Court justice has: "She did do some defense work insofar as subpoenas served on reporters," according to a spokesman for her former law firm.

In a questionnaire Miers completed for the Senate Judiciary Committee and released Oct. 18, she referred to representing The Dallas Morning News, though she did not mention the newspaper by name.

"My representation encompassed many First Amendment issues that were never litigated, including libel. For instance, I would often consult on prepublication review of articles and issues related to reporters' sources of information," she wrote.

While the fact remains that no substantive legal writings exist that would shed light on her commitment to the First Amendment or freedom of information (a thorough search of Westlaw in all federal and state courts covering Texas has turned up no relevant media cases she was involved in), interviews with those who know her and have worked with her indicate that she may have an appreciation of the legal issues facing the news media, and even a sympathy for the work of journalists.

John H. McElhaney, a partner at Miers' former firm, Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP, said that Miers worked on some issues for The Dallas Morning News, which had a long relationship with the firm. According to McElhaney, in addition to the subpoenaed reporters, she also represented a sports columnist with the newspaper, although the details of that case and the subpoena contests - including the names of the reporters and whether she won or lost - were not available.

Ralph Langer, a former executive editor for the Morning News, recalled that Miers was a supervising attorney on Morning News matters in the early 1980s. Langer, who is now retired, did not personally work with Miers on the libel and freedom of information issues that the firm handled for the newspaper, instead working with other attorneys. "We didn't have any cases where she was around the table helping us decide what course of action to take," he said, but through her firm's work, he said he is sure she has a commitment to First Amendment issues.

Morning News columnist James Ragland said Miers was extremely approachable and friendly to reporters when he covered her City Council term as a reporter from 1989 to 1991.

"She'd always respond and was very open to the press. She'd talk about almost any public policy issue. The only area she wouldn't [speak of] was if it was in client-attorney privilege," Ragland said. "She respected that relationship."

To Ragland's knowledge, Miers had never tried to deny media access to any meetings or public records, saying that she would even "go the extra yard" to make sure the media had sufficient background information on various issues she was involved in.

Only one incident involving access to government proceedings came to light during a search of Miers' background. While serving on the Texas Lottery Board Commission in 1997, Miers voted to fire a lottery agent in what the agent alleged was a secret meeting. The agent sued for a violation of the state's open meetings statute and the case settled without a financial settlement, The New York Times reported. The fired agent was later awarded $750,000 in a suit against the lottery's operator, Gtech, but it remains unclear whether the later suit was related to an open meetings violation. …