Tags: 'Civil | Rights' | Dictator | Berry | Again | Defies | Bush

'Civil Rights' Dictator Berry Again Defies Bush

Friday, 11 January 2002 12:00 AM

In the second month of a running fight with the White House, Berry refused to seat Cleveland lawyer Peter Kirsanow on the commission. Bush chose Kirsanow to replace Victoria Wilson, whose appointment has ended. She was named last January by Bill Clinton to fill an expiring seat left empty by the death of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham.

"The horse race of who sits on the commission may be very interesting to the public and the media, but it doesn't matter who sits on the commission. The most important issue here is how the court decides whether there is an issue that can go to court where there is a conflict," Berry, a Clinton appointee, said Friday.

While the White House notes that Higginbotham's term ended Nov. 29, 2001, and Wilson's appointment was good until then, Berry and other Democrat commission members claim that a 1994 law says every appointee to the commission, no matter what the cause, has a six-year term.

As a result, the Justice Department has filed suit against Wilson for failing to relinquish her seat, and Berry has filed her own lawsuit against the administration. Berry said Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice should either represent the panel in its case against the administration because under the commission's statutes it is charged with representing the panel in litigation, or recuse itself.

"I would have hoped the president would do what President John Kennedy did in the 1960s when the commission wanted to hold hearings [in Mississippi] and the Justice Department didn't want them to," Berry said. She said Kennedy publicly asserted that the commission was independent and did not interfere.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, chairman of the House subcommittee charged with oversight of the commission, warned Berry in a Jan. 9 letter to seat Kirsanow, withdraw her lawsuit against the administration or possibly face removal. She could also face criminal penalties if she improperly hired an outside law firm to represent her in court, Chabot said.

Republican Commissioner Jennifer C. Braceras called on Berry and the commission to allow Kirsanow to sit on the panel until the case was resolved, a motion that was voted down 5 to 2 by the liberal majority. Braceras and Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican, voted for themselves but also voiced votes for Kirsanow into the meeting record. Berry said she wanted to wait for the court to resolve the dispute.

Braceras then asked Commission Staff Director Leslie R. Jin what authority he had to hire outside counsel for the commission when it already had a counsel's office. Jin responded that it was in the scope of his day-to-day duties. Signaling her intent to dig in for a legal battle, Berry hired the powerful law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison to represent her, a move Chabot said raised "serious and legal ethical concerns."

Hiring staff pro bono, Chabot said, violated commission statutes prohibiting the use of free services. Chabot added that if the attorneys were paid with government money, Berry could be subject to criminal penalties of up to two years in prison and $5,000 in fines. Berry used the same argument when she refused to allow Republicans to use John Lott, a Yale University legal scholar, to review findings in the commission's partisan Florida election report, Chabot said.

Tensions among Berry, the White House and Chabot's committee have escalated since the summer, Chabot's committee demanded Berry turn over supporting documents used to compile a report on voting irregularities in the 2000 presidential election.

The request came amid growing concerns that the statistical data was flawed.

Berry initially refused, saying, "The commission exercise its statutory mandate to act as a watchdog over the enforcement of our civil rights laws, if it is not free to choose its own experts, write reports without interference and publish conclusions without fear of reprisal." But in August she turned over the documents, which the committee called insufficient and inconsistent.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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In the second month of a running fight with the White House, Berry refused to seat Cleveland lawyer Peter Kirsanow on the commission. Bush chose Kirsanow to replace Victoria Wilson, whose appointment has ended. She was named last January by Bill Clinton to fill an expiring...
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Friday, 11 January 2002 12:00 AM
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