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Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander recently bought a house in his home state of Tennessee, prompting speculation that he might have been buying career insurance as well as making a real-estate investment.

There could be three statewide posts contested in Tennessee's 1994 elections, two of them wide open.

Sen. Jim Sasser, a Democrat, will be up for re-election that year. The term of Gov. Ned McWherter also ends in 1994, and Mr. McWherter, another Democrat, is barred by state law from seeking re-election.

A third possibility could open up if the Democrats win the White House. Governor McWherter would appoint a replacement to the seat now held by Sen. Al Gore if Mr. Gore became Vice President, but a special election would be held in 1994.

An Education Department spokesman said too much is being read into Mr. Alexander's decision to buy a $351,000 home in Nashville.

"He likes what he's doing now,'' said the spokesman. "I'm sure he plans on going home eventually, but it's not like he has some master plan.''

William Bradford Reynolds's experience as a former U.S. assistant attorney general seems to be an asset to his new law firm, Dickstein, Shapiro, & Morin.

Last month, however, it cost the firm a client.

Following a conflict-of-interest complaint, the firm has withdrawn as counsel to the state of Missouri in its effort to avoid being stuck with half the bill for an ambitious school-desegregation effort in St. Louis.

The firm denied any wrongdoing, but said in its response to the complaint that continued involvement in the case "would not be in the best interest of its client.''

A complaint by William L. Taylor, a veteran civil-rights lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case, accused Mr. Reynolds of violating ethical standards and conflict-of-interest laws by calling former subordinates at the Justice Department and attempting to discuss the St. Louis case.

The Dickstein firm denied the charge and asserted that it had taken steps to preclude Mr. Reynolds's involvement in the case. Mr. Taylor countered that the steps were taken too late, and the firm was hired precisely because of Mr. Reynolds's expertise.

Mr. Reynolds and his firm left the case, but not quietly. Their formal response to Mr. Taylor's complaint accused him of showing a "reckless disregard of the truth'' and of mounting a "vicious attack'' against Mr. Reynolds.

--Julie Miller, Peter West

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