New White House Counsel Accused of Favoritism for Cheney's Halliburton

Date: 2001-06-25 22:18:23 PST

Common Dreams

Published on Monday, December 18, 2000
Was the Fix In?
New White House Counsel Accused of Favoritism for Cheney's Halliburton

by Nathan Newman

This Sunday, December 17th, Bush nominated Alberto Gonzales, a man Bush put
on the Texas Supreme Court in 1999, to be the new White House Counsel. Yet
Justice Gonzales has been a focus of ethical controversy in Texas, with the
organization Texans for Public Justice noting that Gonzales like other Texas
Supreme Court Justices have taken large amounts of money from the Cheney-run
Halliburton companies, then ruled in favor of the company in cases that came
before the Court.

Cheney's Halliburton corporation, through its executives and its separate
subsidiaries, was the second-largest corporate contributor to Texas Supreme
Court races in the last three election cycles, contributing over $79,000 to
the Justices. Five times in the past seven years, cases involving
Halliburton have come before the Texas Supreme Court, and each time the
Court has either ruled for the company or refused to hear an appeal of a
favorable verdict for the firm from a lower court.

In 1999, a Halliburton employee had won a $2.6 million trial verdict due to
allegations that a company supervisor framed him to test positive for
cocaine, only to see the verdict overturned by a Texas Court of Appeals.
Just before the Texas Supreme Court ruled on the case, Halliburton gave a
number of contributions to the Justices, including $3000 to Alberto
Gonzales. None of the Justices recused themselves from the case and the
Court refused to hear the appeal against Halliburton.

Making the Gonzales conflict even more controversial is the fact that before
being appointed to office, Gonzales had been a partner at the law firm
Vinson & Elkins, L.L.P. in Houston which had Halliburton as a major client.
And Gonzales worked in the section where Halliburton was represented where
he had a strong relationship with the firm.

With bitter feelings among many voters that Bush used a conservative US
Supreme Court to engineer his election as President, it is shocking that he
would appoint as White House Counsel a man embroiled in controversy for
taking contributions from Bush's Vice President's firm and favoring that
company in judicial decisions.

Bush has a history of using the courts to favor his corporate supporters and
the appointment of Gonzales shows that he has no attention of abandoning
that tradition he established in Texas. As his first legal-related
appointment as President-Elect, it shows that Bush has the intention of
continuing his use of the courts to undemocratically engineer victories for
himself and his corporate supporters.

Following are excerpts from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram of July 29, 2000
with more details:

"When a personnel dispute between Dallas-based Halliburton Co. and a fired
employee reached the Texas Supreme Court last summer, something else landed
in Austin as well: $5,000 in campaign contributions to three justices.

During the four months that the case was before the nine-member high court,
a Halliburton subsidiary and a top executive made four donations, records
show. They were the company's only donations to the court in 1999, according
to an analysis by a judicial reform group.

In December, the court decided not to hear the case, letting stand a lower
court ruling that erased a $2.6 million verdict against Halliburton..

The Cheney/Halliburton campaign-money trail paints part of the political
picture. The Star-Telegram analyzed campaign records in databases managed by
the Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics, the Texas
Ethics Commission and the Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based
nonpartisan group that advocates for judicial reform.

Halliburton's pet cause has been the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court. The
firm and its executives have made 55 contributions, totaling $44,000, since
1993, according to records of Texans for Public Justice.

Brown & Root and Dresser Industries, two of Halliburton's largest
Texas-based divisions, added another $35,600 in Supreme Court donations.
Combined contributions from the three company branches would rank
Halliburton second among all corporate donors to the Texas Supreme Court
races during the past three election cycles.

During the past seven years, Halliburton has had at least five cases before
the court. Each time, the court either declined to hear a case or ruled in
the company's favor, according to Texans for Public Justice researchers who
track campaign spending.

"They've methodically flooded the Supreme Court with money at the same time
they've had cases pending before the court," said Cris Feldman, staff
attorney for the organization.

Barry Brin represented Carlos Sanchez, a Halliburton field worker in Laredo
who won a $2.6 million jury verdict upholding his allegation that a company
supervisor framed him to test positive for cocaine.

The verdict was overturned by the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio,
and Sanchez appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case reached the high court on July 26, 1999, and was disposed of Dec.
2. During that period, Halliburton executives made four contributions -
$1,000 to Justice Priscilla Owen; two totaling $3,000 to Justice Alberto
Gonzales; and $1,000 to Justice Nathan Hecht.

"I think, in general, it's just hard for anybody in that position to totally
take out of their minds the money of the people supporting their campaigns,"
Brin said.

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so
long as I'm the dictator."  George W. Bush, Televised Newsconference
December 18, 2000

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