- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales defended federal judicial nominee Priscilla Owen yesterday, saying she did nothing wrong in accepting campaign contributions from Enron employees when she ran for the Texas Supreme Court or in hearing cases involving Enron while she sat on the court.
"The record reflects that she has at all times acted properly and in complete compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the rules relating to judicial-campaign finance," Mr. Gonzales said in a letter yesterday to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.
Mr. Gonzales said Mr. Leahy suggested in recent conversations that the White House should look into whether contributions she received for her campaigns for the Texas Supreme Court raise any legitimate issue with respect to her fitness to serve on the 5th Circuit.
Justice Owen is the president's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. She was nominated May 9, 2001, and has not yet received a Judiciary Committee hearing.
The Gonzales letter notes it is legal for candidates for the state judiciary in Texas to receive campaign contributions. The letter points out that in the 1994 election cycle, Justice Owen's campaign received $8,800 from employees of collapsed energy giant Enron and its employee-funded political action committee accounting for less than 1 percent of the total contributions to her campaign.
Mr. Gonzales said it is "well-established that judicial recusal is neither necessary nor appropriate in cases involving parties or counsel who contributed to that judge's campaign."
And he said the decisions of the Texas Supreme Court in proceedings involving Enron since 1995, when Justice Owen took her seat, "have been ordinary and raise no questions whatsoever."
The conservative Justice Owen has been cited in the media, in particular for a 1996 Texas Supreme Court case involving Enron, in which she wrote the opinion for the court. In that case, the court ruled unanimously that a particular tax statute did not violate the state constitution a decision that benefited Enron.
Mr. Gonzales pointed out that two Democratic justices who sat on the court at the time have written to Mr. Leahy "to explain the case, indicating that Justice Owen's participation in the case was entirely proper."
"In a unanimous opinion, all justices, Democrats and Republicans alike, agreed with the opinion authored by Justice Owens," read the April 1 letter to Mr. Leahy, signed by Raul A. Gonzalez and Rose Spector. "In my judgment, this case raises no legitimate issue with respect to Justice Owen's confirmation." Justice Gonzalez served on the Texas Supreme Court from 1984 to 1998 and Justice Spector served from 1992 to 1998.
Mr. Gonzales, who himself served on the Texas Supreme Court starting in 1999, also pointed out that both U.S. senators from Texas support her nomination and the American Bar Association has unanimously rated Justice Owen as "well qualified."
He closed the letter by requesting a prompt committee hearing and vote for her nomination.
Mr. Leahy's spokesman, David Carle, said the senator "appreciates Judge Gonzales' responsiveness in answering some questions that have been raised about this nomination in several news stories."
Mr. Carle said "the issue in this instance has not been the nominee's Enron-related contributions, but the nominee's actions as a judge. Judge Gonzales' review of these cases will be a useful addition to the committee's record as it prepares to schedule a hearing on this nomination."

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