Thursday, August 7, 2003

A prominent black civil rights lawyer from California quit the NAACP this week after a disagreement with the group over his support of one of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

After Leo Terrell appeared at a news conference last week in support of a nominee being blocked by Democrats, two officials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People telephoned him and tried “bullying” him over his position, he said.

“They were trying to make me goose-step with them,” said Mr. Terrell, who joined the NAACP 13 years ago and has done free legal work for the group. “I felt embarrassed to call myself a member of the NAACP. I was proud to quit.”

But Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington office, said he called Mr. Terrell simply to advise him against billing himself as an “NAACP lawyer.”

“He’s not an NAACP lawyer, not even a former NAACP lawyer,” Mr. Shelton said. “He’s done volunteer work for us, which we appreciate.

“But when he takes a position that is diametrically opposite from our position, he’s not speaking for us,” he said.

Mr. Terrell, based in Beverly Hills, specializes in civil rights and discrimination cases. He is the author of a book titled “Your Rights at the Workplace: The Things Your Boss Won’t Tell You.” He also hosts a radio talk show about legal issues and current affairs on KABC-AM in Los Angeles. His profile on the station’s Web site describes him as an attorney for the NAACP.

His dispute with the NAACP comes after Mr. Terrell took a public stance in favor of California Judge Carolyn Kuhl, Mr. Bush’s nominee to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Kuhl is strenuously opposed by Democrats and is expected to become the fourth Bush nominee filibustered in the Senate.

“She’s fair, she’s impartial,” said Mr. Terrell, who tried a case before her three years ago. “That’s all I ever want from a judge.”

But like many other top Democratic interest groups, the NAACP adamantly opposes Judge Kuhl.

“She’s been very rigid in her unyielding support for corporate interests,” Mr. Shelton said. Complaints from most other groups stem from her work in the Reagan administration, when she questioned the settlement of certain abortion rights cases.

The opposition to Judge Kuhl’s nomination is part of a larger blockade of several of Mr. Bush’s nominees to the federal bench.

Already, a group of 45 Democratic senators are filibustering three nominees: Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada, nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor, nominated to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Kuhl is opposed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, California Democrats, who have written letters urging that her nomination be spiked.

Republican Senate leaders plan to try forcing a final confirmation vote on Judge Kuhl when they return from summer recess in September. Her nomination is expected to be filibustered.

But several Democratic lawyers who have tried cases before Judge Kuhl share Mr. Terrell’s view that she should be confirmed.

“I certainly didn’t get all the rulings I wanted, but I felt all of her rulings were reasonable,” Los Angeles trial lawyer Bruce Broillet told a local legal journal. “She had an excellent judicial temperament. As you can tell, I hold her in high regard. A lot of consumer attorneys have very good things to say about Carolyn Kuhl.”

Mr. Terrell said the NAACP’s opposition to Judge Kuhl is not about principle, but all about politics.

“This organization is as political as the Democratic Senatorial Committee,” he said. “They’re in the back pocket of the Democratic Party on this issue.”

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