In what's become a proxy for debate over mass torts, U.S. senators are clashing again over the nomination of Motley Rice partner John McConnell Jr. for a seat on the federal bench.
McConnell won an 11-7 vote today by the Senate Judiciary Committee, largely along party lines, and his nomination for U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island now heads to the Senate floor. But he faces strong opposition from most Republicans because of his past involvement in state politics and in litigation against the lead-paint and tobacco industries.
President Barack Obama first nominated McConnell in March 2010, and since then his nomination has pinballed between the Judiciary Committee and the Senate floor.
During today’s committee meeting, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) took aim at McConnell and his wife for making political donations in states where Motley Rice was soliciting litigation, and he criticized Motley Rice for frequently teaming up with state attorneys general.
“I am not suggesting illegal or unethical behavior, but it is a bit unseemly,” Grassley said in his prepared remarks. “He and his firm, Motley Rice, have often brought these controversial mass tort litigations cases while representing state attorneys general on no-bid contingency fee contracts.”
Grassley also mentioned a dispute between Motley Rice and Jones Day, in which Jones Day sued the plaintiffs’ firm over a document it said was stolen from its client Sherwin-Williams Co. in lead-paint litigation. (Click here for a 2009 story on the dispute from The National Law Journal.) And Grassley criticized Motley Rice for a controversy in which E.I Dupont De Nemours and Co. paid $12 million to resolve lead-paint litigation, and $2.5 million of it went to a hospital with close ties to Motley Rice. (Click here for a 2006 story from The Providence Journal.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a former state attorney general, said the criticisms of McConnell are unfounded and he cited support from local Republicans, including Senior Judge Bruce Selya, a Reagan appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit. “[McConnell] may not be the favorite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but he’s doing just fine in Rhode Island,” Whitehouse said.
The lone Republican to support McConnell in committee has been Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), whose state is home to Motley Rice’s main office. Also today, the committee delayed for at least one week a vote on Goodwin Liu, a nominee for the 9th Circuit who has drawn heavy Republican opposition.