William Pryor: Unfit to Judge

Other Concerns

Other concerns about Pryor have been raised by his refusal to join the vast majority of his fellow state attorneys general in bringing suit against the tobacco companies, his open criticism of them for having done so and their criticism of him, and other aspects of his record that raise serious questions about his apparent support for big business interests versus the interests of ordinary citizens.

Although Pryor claimed that the lawsuits against the tobacco industry were not well-founded legally and were an abuse of the legal process,82 the overwhelming majority of state attorneys general disagreed. This raises questions about whether Pryor, in concluding as he did that the tobacco companies should not be sued when so many other attorneys general disagreed, was exercising bad legal judgment or paying undue deference to corporate interests. It is certainly true that Pryor has portrayed himself publicly as a friend of corporate interests, has frequently spoken to business groups about what he calls the “lawsuit abuse” of his fellow attorneys general, and has urged the business establishment to support the election as attorneys general of others who share his views. In fact, he helped found the Republican Attorney Generals Association, a partisan group that expressly solicits financial contributions from corporations that could find themselves the subjects of lawsuits brought by state attorneys general.

As noted, Pryor was one of the few state attorneys general who refused to join his colleagues in bringing suit on behalf of his state against the tobacco industry to recover health care costs spent by the states in treating smoking-related illnesses.83 Pryor not only refused to join this nationwide litigation, but he was also openly critical of what his colleagues were doing. In numerous public statements, Pryor criticized these lawsuits, saying that “[t]he tobacco issue, like so many other issues of public health, politics, and economics, does not belong in court.”84 As Pryor himself stated in 2001, “[f]or the last five years, I have written and spoken widely on this subject, always in opposition to the lawsuits.” Bill Pryor, Attorney General of Alabama, “What Hath the MSA Wrought? The Consequences of the State Tobacco Litigation,” Mississippi Bar Litigation and General Practice Session Annual Meeting (July 13, 2001). Pryor expressly linked his refusal to join the tobacco litigation with his limited view of the role of the judiciary, his “majority rules” philosophy, and his perception that the courts have implemented “the liberal agenda” on such issues as “racial quotas, school prayer, abortion, and homosexual rights.”85 According to Pryor, “[t]hose issues belong in Congress and the state legislatures. The same is true of tobacco.”86

A number of state attorneys general, including other Republican attorneys general, severely criticized Pryor. For example: “‘He’s been attorney general for about five minutes, and already he’s acted more poorly than any other attorney general,’ says Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, the first Republican in that post to sue tobacco companies. ‘I truly believe Alabama would be better off with Richard Pryor.’” Kelly Greene, “Bill Pryor Hopes to Ride Court Crusade to the Top,” Wall Street Journal (May 21, 1997).

In August 1997, New York’s Attorney General, Dennis Vacco, a Republican, shared a platform with Pryor concerning the proposed national tobacco settlement. Pryor began by defending his decision not to sue the tobacco industry and repeating his then-familiar claim that the tobacco issue “does not belong in court.”87 Vacco responded by explaining “this Republican’s perspective on public health and the need for the type of aggressive action that the attorneys general of this nation [took] . . . [T]his is a public health issue of national proportions, so we can’t rely exclusively on the domain of the respective state legislatures . . . [T]his is indeed a public health issue that required the collective aggressive efforts of the attorneys general to move the debate on this topic.” Id. (emphasis added).88

Mike Moore, Attorney General of Mississippi and the first attorney general to sue the tobacco companies, charged that “‘Bill Pryor was probably the biggest defender of tobacco companies of anyone I know. He did a better job of defending the tobacco companies than their own defense attorneys.’” Eric Fleischauer, “Pryor Called a Tobacco Sellout,” Decatur Daily News Online (Oct. 30, 2002). “‘We were telling him, “You’ve got to get in this thing; we can win this,” but he fought us every step,’ Moore said.” Id. Moore was particularly disturbed that a memo Pryor did “‘saying the cases were frivolous, saying that we could not win’ . . . ended up in the hands of the tobacco companies.” Id.

Pryor’s refusal to sue the tobacco industry caused divisiveness within his own state, as others in Alabama tried to bring suit when Pryor would not. For example, contending that “his office must approve all suits filed by state entities,” Pryor successfully moved to dismiss a lawsuit against the tobacco companies brought by the University of South Alabama, which operates a teaching hospital and was attempting to recover the millions of dollars it spent annually “treating poor people for tobacco-related illness . . .”89 This prompted the University’s President to say, “I told him that Mr. Pryor you have three options: you can sue me in state court, you can sue me in federal court or you can put me in jail.”90

Don Siegelman, then-Lieutenant Governor of Alabama and a former Attorney General, fared no better when, without Pryor’s approval, he brought his own suit representing individual Alabama taxpayers. Phillip Rawls, “Judge Puts Future of Tobacco Lawsuit in Bill Pryor’s Hands,” Associated Press (Aug. 29, 1997). This suit too was dismissed because Pryor would not participate. “Judge Dismisses Tobacco Lawsuit Seeking Damages for Alabama Taxpayers,” Associated Press (Sept. 25, 1997); Jessica Saunders, “Judge Approves Alabama’s Participation in National Tobacco Settlement,” Associated Press (Mar. 3, 1999).91

Finally, in late 1998, then-Governor Fob James of Alabama filed suit against the major tobacco companies. Phillip Rawls, “James, Pryor in Legal Duel, $2.9 Billion at Stake,” Associated Press (Nov. 13, 1998). According to the press, James was “tired of delays in the negotiations between attorneys general and tobacco companies aimed at reaching a new national tobacco settlement.” Id. This sparked a feud with Pryor, who immediately filed his own lawsuit “to make sure Alabama participates fully in the proposed national settlement.” Id. Pryor’s suit, however, was described as a breach of contract lawsuit, with Pryor claiming that in not suing the tobacco companies, he was relying on “behind-the-scenes promises from the tobacco industry that Alabama would get a financial deal comparable to that of any state that sued and won a settlement.” “Pryor Says He Had Behind-the-Scenes Assurances from Tobacco Industry While Not Suing,” Associated Press (Nov. 14, 1998) (emphasis added). Pryor’s lawsuit asserted that, “based on the tobacco companies’ assurances, ‘The State of Alabama did forbear from instituting a lawsuit against the defendants.’” Id.

Alabama ultimately received approximately $3 billion in the settlement with the tobacco companies. Eric Fleischauer, “Pryor Called a Tobacco Sellout,” Decatur Daily News Online (Oct. 30, 2002). The press reported that Alabama was getting less in the settlement than were states that had sued and settled individually. “Alabama Would Get Less From National Settlement Than States That Sued and Settled Individually,” Associated Press (Oct. 17, 1998). According to Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, Alabama’s $3 billion was half the amount, per capita, that Mississippi received. Eric Fleischauer, “Pryor Called a Tobacco Sellout,” Decatur Daily News Online (Oct. 30, 2002). Moore told the press, “Pryor’s courting of tobacco companies cost Alabama billions.” Id.92

Pryor, an NRA member and opponent of gun control legislation93, has been as vocal a critic of government lawsuits against gun manufacturers as he was of the tobacco litigation, calling such lawsuits “litigation madness.”94 He has exhorted the gun industry “to take these suits seriously; assemble the finest legal teams that you can afford; build a broad coalition to counterattack in the legislative arenas; and never, never surrender.”95

Pryor has used his opposition to government lawsuits against the tobacco and other industries to urge the election of more attorneys general who share his ideology, specifically targeting his remarks to the business community. In a 1999 speech, Pryor stated,

the business community must be engaged heavily in the election process as it affects legal and judicial offices. Frankly, this need is the most important of all. . . [T]he recent tobacco and gun suits demonstrate the importance of state attorneys general elections. The recent formation by the Republican National Committee of the Republican Attorneys General Association, of which I am Treasurer, hopefully will help elect more conservative and free market oriented Attorneys General.96

The Republican Attorneys General Association (“RAGA”) was “conceived by” Pryor.97 According to press accounts, two concerns have been raised about RAGA: the ethics of a state’s chief prosecutor soliciting funds from businesses that he or she could be suing, and the fact that corporate funds contributed to RAGA are untraceable because “[t]he money raised by RAGA flows through the Republican National Committee, where it is mingled with other funds and can then be given to state parties, to candidates, or to related issue-oriented campaigns. The public can’t follow who specifically gave to RAGA, or how that money was spent.”98 According to one account:

Republican state attorneys general are soliciting large contributions from corporations that are embroiled in — or seeing to avert — lawsuits by states. . . Membership in RAGA costs anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000, with increasing levels of access to the attorneys general depending on the donation. . . [T]here is no way of knowing which companies have contributed to RAGA or how much. . . . Several present and past attorneys general, Republican and Democrat, complain that RAGA puts attorneys general in the position of asking for money from potential or even actual defendants. . . Asked why he did not join the group, Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher said, “I’m a Republican and I try to keep politics out of my business as attorney general.” “We’re a family, and families can disagree,” Grant Woods, former Republican attorney general of Arizona, told the National Association of Attorneys General during a discussion about RAGA at its spring meeting here last week. “But don’t do this.”99

Republican Betty Montgomery, Attorney General of Ohio, initially joined RAGA but withdrew, saying that “I raised some questions about who we were raising money from. It wasn’t worth trying to sort out what the ethical land mines are.”100 Republican Carla Stovall, Attorney General of Kansas, also refused to join RAGA, stating “‘It’s really not for any group of Republican attorneys general or Democratic attorneys general to dictate what Kansas or Colorado or anyplace else ought to have in play.’”101

In terms of tracing the monies donated to RAGA, it has been written that

[i]t is impossible to know the full extent of the support that RAGA received from industries that face state lawsuits because RAGA does not disclose its donors. Instead, it directs individuals, PACs and corporations to make stealth contributions to RAGA in the name of the Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC). This much larger PAC does report its expenditures and contributions. But neither RNSEC nor RAGA will reveal which of the $162 million in contributions that RNSEC received in the 2000 election cycle belong to RAGA. Phillip Morris and the National Rifle Association are two of the RNSEC’s top donors. Georgetown University election law specialist Roy Schotland has said that RAGA’s fundraising scheme is practically akin to money laundering.

Andrew Wheat, “Attorneys General for Sale?”, Multinational Monitor, Vol. 22, No. 6 (June 2001) (emphasis added).102

When Pryor was elected chair of RAGA in early 2001, he said he was “grateful for the confidence of my colleagues to lead this organization as we continue or agenda of . . . promoting the free market and limited government.”103 Pryor himself has specifically solicited the business community for support. For example, in January 2002, he spoke before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee and stated point blank that “I want to address this morning the indispensable role that the business community must play in the election of fair and pro-business state attorneys general.” Remarks of Attorney General Bill Pryor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee (Jan. 26, 2002) (emphasis added). “If you think that the office of state attorney general in your state is an unlikely source of mischief, think again. My warnings this morning are not based on speculation or conjecture. I know my colleagues. We meet regularly at conferences of the National Association of Attorneys General. We discuss our philosophies and agendas. Many of my colleagues are enemies of free enterprise.” Id.

Although Pryor’s job as Attorney General is to protect the rights of all of Alabama’s citizens, he has shown a disturbing tendency to favor the interests of big business. Pryor’s record as a friend of big business and as a hostile, vocal critic of so many of his own fellow attorneys general on business-related issues raise serious concerns about how, if confirmed, he would rule with respect to the rights and interests of ordinary Americans.

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