The Washington Gadfly
Miers Plays Santa Claus to Lefty Lawyers

John Roberts enraged some conservatives because he provided pro bono legal assistance to supporters of equal rights for homosexuals.

But Harriet Miers has helped gay rights advocates and their ideological soul mates on the left get something more valuable than advice: cold hard cash.

Already savaged by conservatives for insufficient fealty to the cause, Miers now faces a possible high-tech lynching for uppity women because of her virtually unnoticed but longtime support for one of the left's most lucrative bait-and-switch efforts: Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts or IOLTA. This innocuous sounding program ostensibly funds legal services for the poor but more often than not makes any American who leaves money with lawyers an unwitting donor to a panoply of left-wing advocates, including a California group that sued to overturn the state's parental consent law for abortion, a gay organization that tried to force the organizers of St. Patrick's Day Parade in Boston to include a contingent of gay marchers, and a Texas outfit that sued to disqualify military absentee ballots.

Now, Chimpstein.com has discovered an obscure report which places Miers at the forefront of the American Bar Association's successful effort to foist IOLTA on the nation. This is the smoking gun which at least one conservative group tried to locate and failed. And anyone who uses it gives Chimpstein.com, an investigative website not a blog, credit; I'm not running a free research service for journalists and advocacy organizations. The report was issued in part by the ABA "consortium" on which Miers served. But the White House web site omits this endeavor from its laundry list of Miers' putative accomplishments.

No wonder. Sleep with the liberal wolves and you wake up with fleas. Understand that IOLTA is not just any lefty scheme. It's particularly deceitful, especially coercive and quite lucrative. "IOLTA is a program, created by state supreme courts or state legislation, whereby lawyers pool client funds--small sums and large sums held for short periods of time--into a designated interest-bearing checking account," writes law professor Charles Rounds, intellectual guru the conservative spirited but ultimately failed assault on IOLTA. "The interest that is generated on those pooled funds is then funneled through a judicially created legal foundation to various "public interest" legal firms."

IOLTA was hatched in Florida in 1981. Some eight years later, Miers and her comrades on the "American BarAssociation Consortium on Legal services and the Public," joined up with Tulane Law School professors to sponsor the very ambitious sounding "National Conference on Access to Justice in the 1990s." No mere cog in the wheel, Miers also labored on a "planning subcommittee" for the New Orleans shin dig in June 1989.

According to the official 1991 ABA report, conference participants discussed a number of "fruitful funding theories" that would provide money to fund better legal services for the poor. These included a "dedicated gross receipts tax on lawyer's professional income" and the enactment of "comprehensive IOLTA programs, now implemented in 22 states, [in] the remaining jurisdictions."

The tax proposal proved controversial. No qualms were recorded, however, about the move for "comprehensive" IOLTA programs. But the idea was certainly ambitious. Comprehensive is ABA speak for mandatory. That makes a certain amount of perverse sense; Totalitarianism is quite "comprehensive."

Now, thanks in part to the ABA which aggressively pushed for "comprehensive" IOLTA programs, lawyers face disbarment if they don't place clients funds in IOLTA accounts, which were once voluntarily. Once mandatory, IOLTA revenues increased dramatically.

This is big bucks.

Nationwide, IOLTA, by one estimate, generates $100 million annually. In Texas, about $3 million currently.

What does all this, especially the subterfuge, say about Miers?

"Anyone who participated in the ABA campaign to make IOLTA 'comprehensive' in all 50 states and the District of Columbia should automatically be disqualified from holding a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court," Rounds tells this reporter, who has written about IOLTA for Insight magazine, the New York Post and the Washington Times. "Comprehensive IOLTA was and is all about compulsion and deceit: Under its auspices a lawyer is compelled to assist the state in taking the property of his or her clients, and may do so without their knowledge and consent. In the post-Kelo era, the last thing we need is another justice who does not take seriously the Fifth Amendment's taking clause, for whom the ends justify the means."

The ABA report is hardly Miers' only link to IOLTA. Her stint as Texas State Bar head is another tie that binds. That professional organizations has an incestuous relationship with the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation which distributes IOLTA money.

The Texas State Bar appoints about half of all members to the TEAF. Darrell Jordan, an outspoken supporter of Miers and former Texas State Bar president, litigated on behalf of the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation all the way to the Supreme Court (IOLTA was subsequently upheld in a related case), these days is quoted in support of Miers' nomination.

The TEAF's website today lists the Texas Bar as one of its partners in "its mission of providing funding for civil legal services to the poor."

That's the stated mission. But what is the reality? In his 1997 "policy analysis" for the libertarian Cato Institute Rounds recounts some of IOLTA's greatest hits in Texas and elsewhere. Just how do these provide legal representation for the "poor." Many of the grants in questions were disbursed around the same time Miers headed the Texas bar.

Here's Rounds--

• A 1992-93 IOLTA grant of $87,000 went to the Massachusetts Advocacy Center, which "has fought court battles against tougher standards for public school administrators and for the abolition of merit-based entrance requirements for the Boston Latin School."

• A $134,000 grant went to the Massachusetts Disability Law Center whose most notorious case involved helping a fired Duxbury fireman regain his job and $20,000 back pay plus 12 percent interest. The town had dismissed the man after he was found not guilty, by reason of insanity, of bludgeoning his wife within an inch of her life.

Texas Rural Legal Aid, an IOLTA grantee, ... in 1996 filed a federal lawsuit challenging the right of military personnel to vote by absentee ballot in Val Verde County, Texas. TRLA alleges that the800 absentee ballots cast by active-duty members of the armed forces unlawfully contributed to the election of Republicans Murray Kachel as county commissioner and D'Wayne Jernigan as sheriff. TRLA charges that counting the absentee ballots violates the Federal Voting Rights Act because the ballots "dilute" the voting strength of Hispanics. . .

It is difficult to determine how many bona fide poverty cases were turned away by IOLTA grantees because they did not have a political component. There is some anecdotal evidence, however, of some curious applicant denials. For example, in 1992 Rose Pucci, a secretary earning $23,000 a year, purchased at a foreclosure sale a rented condominium in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. Her tenant was a well-to-do lawyer at a prestigious downtown law firm. When the attorney-tenant would not leave the premises so that Pucci could move into her new home, she found herself before the Rent Board, which proceeded to take the side of the tenant. The case dragged on. Pucci became homeless and deeply in debt. She sought help from several IOLTA grantee groups but was turned away by all of them. Pucci was told by one group that it would never provide assistance to a "landlord." She was finally rescued by a private attorney who took her case pro bono. The Rose Pucci case suggests that IOLTA is more about poverty politics than about aiding the poor.

In other words, the "politically incorrect" need not apply. Chester Darling, an attorney who is a solo practitioner in Boston, got a taste of what it is like to be on the "incorrect" side of a legal services lawsuit when he agreed to defend the First Amendment rights of a veterans' organization.

After a hastily organized group known as the Irish- American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston applied unsuccessfully to march in a St. Patrick's Day parade organized by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, the newly organized group sued for admission. Pressed by a number of law firms and organizations closely connected with the IOLTA community, including the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which received IOLTA grants, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled unanimously for the veterans on First Amendment grounds, stating that Massachusetts could not "require private citizens who organize a parade to include among the marchers a group imparting a message the organizers do not wish to convey."

Darling and the veterans won, but at great personal and financial cost . . .

What's Miers take on all this? In the only one of about 21,800 Miers that listed on news.google.com which links her to IOLTA, Jordan tells Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Max Baker "I don't know of any time in her career that she's opposed a valid, pro-bono program like Legal Services, IOLTA or the clinic approach."

Jordan did not respond to repeated inquiries from this website. Does that make him suddenly gun shy? Or an anti-Simeanite?

Either way he'll probably soon be forced to reveal details of his apparent conversations with Miers about IOLTA.

The great lady herself has much to explain. Why is she so supportive? How does forcing an Irish Catholic parade to include gay marchers help the poor? If she wants to help the poor should IOLTA funds go to conservative public interest law firms that help low-income folks fight government regulations that make it difficult or impossible for them to start their own businesses? Has IOLTA ever made such awards? The lawyer for the parade organizers applied for IOLTA money but was rejected, incidentally. How do the poor benefit from invalidating parental consent laws on abortion? Or military absentee ballots? Would she recuse herself if another IOLTA case came before the Supreme Court?

It's incumbent upon Miers to answer these questions because her fruitful funding endeavor has helped sprout and nourish so many poisoned weeds of liberalism.

Let a thousand flowers bloom, indeed.

   Evan Gahr EvanGahr@aol.com, a former press critic for the late New York Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel, recently broke the story of a race discrimination lawsuit against the Washington Post. He has written for almost every major conservative publication.