Texas Lawyers Remember Miers as Force Behind the Scenes

10-12-05 - Harriet Miers spent nearly three decades in private practice for a Dallas law firm, representing The Walt Disney Co. and Microsoft Corp. among major clients and arguing on behalf of the software giant in an important Texas case over class-action lawsuits.

Most of the cases the Supreme Court nominee handled were settled before they went to trial, her former law partners say. Those colleagues and lawyers who opposed her remember Miers for her preparation and attention to detail. Her record as a pioneering female lawyer also boosted her standing in Texas.

A native of Dallas, Miers earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University School of Law in 1970. Two years later, she became the first female lawyer hired by the Dallas firm of Locke, Purnell, Boren, Laney & Neely. In private practice with that firm and its successors, she was the counsel of record for only about 20 cases.

"Even as a commercial litigator, much of what you do may not wind up on a docket in a case," says Tom Connop, a colleague with Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP, which was formed in 1998.

Miers had her share of mundane cases, ones that called for smoothing over common business disputes. Even major clients settled many disputes out of court. For example, Miers defended the Anaheim Angels, then owned by Disney, after a minor league baseball player sued over an injury. The matter was settled with a confidential agreement.

Her biggest case may have been her successful fight to spare Microsoft from class-action lawsuits over an alleged defect in one of its computer operating systems.

Plaintiff lawyers persuaded a state district court judge in 1995 and an appeals court to certify lawsuits against the company as a class-action matter. Up to 11 million consumers around the country could have joined in one massive lawsuit against the software giant, according to lawyer Jerry Clements, who worked under Miers on the case.

Miers went back to the original judge and argued that recent court decisions meant that complaints against Microsoft didn't merit class-action status. The judge reversed herself. Anyone claiming damage would have to sue Microsoft on his own _ a costly undertaking. Later, the case was dismissed.

"That was the beginning of a pretty significant trend in Texas that moved away from the state being a good place for class actions," Clements said.

Miers lost cases, too. In 1988, she defended a firm led by a prominent Hong Kong investor who had backed out of a deal to invest $5 million to buy a Dallas office building. One of the other investors, Bear Stearns Cos., tried to cash the Hong Kong firm's letter of credit.

A federal judge sided with Bear Stearns, but Miers persuaded the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to give her client another chance at a trial, according to Lewis LeClair, one of Bear Stearns' lawyers.

"I really thought I had the case won until she showed up, and then I found myself playing defense for a long time," LeClair said. Although Bear Stearns won in the end, "she did an excellent job with a very difficult case," he said.

Miers became the first female president of the Dallas Bar Association in 1985 and the first female president of the Texas Bar Association in 1992.

In 1996, she became the first female president of Locke, Purnell, Rain & Harrell, which employed 200 lawyers. After a merger created Locke Liddell, Miers was co-managing partner of the 400-lawyer firm.

Joe B. Harrison, an attorney who opposed her in a 1998 case, remembers Miers as "well-prepared and competent and ethical and responsible."

On several occasions Miers worked for prominent Republicans in Texas. In the mid-1990s, she represented then-Gov. George W. Bush in a dispute at an East Texas lake resort where Bush owned a house. The case was settled out of court, again with a confidential agreement.

Miers also defended Republican appeals judges named in a wrongful-termination case in 1994.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Miers defended Bush and running mate Dick Cheney against a lawsuit claiming that Texas representatives to the Electoral College couldn't vote for the Republican ticket.

The Constitution forbids electors from voting for a president and a vice president if all are from the same state. Cheney had lived in Dallas for five years and returned to Wyoming only after joining the ticket. Miers argued that the Texas residents who brought the lawsuit didn't have standing to sue.

The appeals judges hearing the case later decided that Cheney was indeed a Wyoming resident. The opposing lawyer, Charles W. McGarry, said Miers focused on a narrow procedural issue but did a competent job.

"She was the go-to lawyer for Republicans," McGarry said.