Miers Wealth Shrank During Her Time in Washington

10-6-05 - Harriet Miers came to the White House in 2001 from a major Texas law firm, boasting a nearly $624,000-a-year salary and assets of as much as $1.1 million.

More than four years later, as Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court and his White House counsel, Miers makes just $161,000 and her holdings could be as little as half what they were.

A mystery since the president announced Miers as his pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is how someone who was a lawyer for 28 years at one of the South's largest firms _ representing major corporate clients and including stints as the firm's president and co-managing partner _ has come to have relatively little wealth.

The value of her holdings has steadily declined during her time in Washington, disclosure forms show. One explanation offered by the White House and Miers' backers lies in her devotion to her family and her church.

Miers, 60, is single and has no children, but her 91-year-old mother, Sally Miers, has been ailing for about a decade and Miers has had the primary responsibility of paying for her care.

Miers bought her Dallas home in 1988, primarily so her mother could live there, and paid for a full-time caregiver for years. Since July, Miers has financed her mother's move to a skilled nursing facility, according to the White House, Miers' brother Robert and Judge Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court, who has dated Miers.

Miers' mother, whose many health issues include brittle bones, a fractured hip, dementia and trouble swallowing, "really went into a tailspin" this summer but has improved since, Hecht said.

Miers also has given 10 percent to 12 percent of her earnings _ "if not more" _ to the evangelical Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, where she has been a congregant for about 25 years, Hecht said.

Miers owns two homes _ the four-bedroom brick house with a tennis court in an upper-middle-class north Dallas neighborhood as well as a condominium in Virginia outside of Washington.

Robert Miers, 62, said in an interview that the family "didn't come from a lot of money" and that all five siblings have tried to maintain lifestyles that are true to the middle-class values their parents instilled.

Financial disclosure forms show steadily declining worth over Miers' four years in the White House, but with assets and liabilities required to be listed only in broad ranges, an exact accounting is impossible. Her total reported worth does not include her two homes, which are not required to be listed.

For 2000, the year before she arrived in Washington to be Bush's staff secretary, Miers reported assets worth between $552,000 and $1.13 million, including stock and a profit-sharing account in the law firm Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP, as well as small oil and gas investments.

She also listed a personal loan on which she owed between $50,000 and $100,000 _ a range that has gone up and down slightly over the years and settled back in 2004 into the same category.

Over four years, Miers has reported selling the law firm stock, liquidating the profit-sharing account into an apparently smaller individual retirement account holding treasury securities and a money market account, and letting treasury securities mature. By 2004, the year covered by the most recent disclosure _ which was filed in May _ her total assets were down to between $218,000 and $595,000.

It's unclear just how lucrative Miers' law-firm career was.

She joined what was then Locke, Purnell, Boren, Laney & Neely in 1972. By 1996, it was Locke, Purnell, Rain & Harrell _ and Miers was president of the firm, which claimed about 200 lawyers. After a 1998 merger with a Houston firm, it became Locke Liddell & Sapp and had about 400 attorneys. Miers was a co-managing partner when she left.

She was listed as the attorney of record on relatively few cases during her time as a litigator, but handled some very large clients, including Microsoft Corp., The Walt Disney Co., the Anaheim Angels, Chase Manhattan Bank and Schering Plough Corp. However, she also had a substantial pro bono practice.

Financial statements filed in Texas, covering 1991 to 1999 and required because Miers was president of the State Bar of Texas and, later, chair of the Texas Lottery Commission, contain little detail but show an asset structure similar to what she reported while in Washington.

With her firm salary listed as $623,749 in 2000, Miers took a huge pay cut to come to Washington _ drawing $140,000 as Bush's staff secretary in 2001. It was the top amount allowed for a White House staffer. By 2003, when she was promoted to deputy chief of staff, the cost-of-living increase gave her $151,000.

If confirmed to the Supreme Court, Miers would make $199,200 as an associate justice.