Tags: Berry | Receives | Ultimatum | From | Congress

Berry Receives Ultimatum From Congress

Wednesday, 09 January 2002 12:00 AM

Fail to seat President Bush's nominee to the panel and you could be removed, the committee told Mary Frances Berry. Use taxpayer money to hire a lawyer and you could face criminal penalties, it warned.

"Your actions in this instance, which have impeded and continue to impede the proper functioning of the commission, may be sufficient to justify your removal from the commission for malfeasance in office," wrote Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee on the Constitution.

A commission spokeswoman said Berry had not yet seen Chabot's letter and could not comment.

Last month, Berry, a Clinton appointee and partisan supporter of Al Gore, led a majority of Democrat and "independent" members in rejecting Bush's nominee, Cleveland lawyer Peter Kirsanow. Bush chose Kirsanow to replace Victoria Wilson, who was appointed last January by Bill Clinton to fill a seat left empty by the death of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham.

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

The eight-member commission investigates alleged cases of discrimination and makes recommendations to Congress and the president. The commission is dominated by partisan in-fighting. A government report charged widespread financial and administrative mismanagement within the agency.

Signaling her intent to dig in for a legal battle, Berry hired the powerful law firm Paul, Wieiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison to represent her, a move Chabot said raised "serious and legal ethical concerns" even though it was not being paid.

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 didn't allow Republicans to use John Lott, a Yale University legal scholar, to review findings in the commission's Florida election report, Chabot said.

Tensions between Berry, the White House and Chabot's committee have escalated since summer, when the House judiciary subcommittee, which acts as the oversight body for the commission, demanded Berry turn over supporting documents used to compile a partisan 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 cannot 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. The committee called the documents insufficient and inconsistent.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Fail to seat President Bush's nominee to the panel and you could be removed, the committee told Mary Frances Berry. Use taxpayer money to hire a lawyer and you could face criminal penalties, it warned. Your actions in this instance, which have impeded and continue to...
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2002-00-09
Wednesday, 09 January 2002 12:00 AM
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