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Former Texas Lottery Director is Bush's Pick for Supreme Court

Oct 3, 2005, 3:07 pm

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Harriet Miers proved to be a tough, no-nonsense administrator during her five years heading the Texas Lottery Commission, firing two executive directors to stamp out scandal but leaving unexpectedly amid lagging sales and player interest.

President Bush tapped Miers on Monday for the Supreme Court, a nomination that prompted closer scrutiny of Miers' years in Texas as a private attorney, a member of the Dallas City Council and chairwoman of the three-member commission that oversees the state's lottery operations.

"Although she's a small-framed woman, we all believed she came through the Marines and maybe ate nails for breakfast because she's one tough cookie," said Horace Taylor, a former lottery employee who worked for Miers.

In announcing Miers' nomination Monday, Bush recalled how he had appointed her to the three-person commission shortly after he was elected governor in 1994. He said the commission overseeing the then- $3 billion lottery "needed a leader of unquestioned integrity."

Her fellow commissioners say that's exactly what he got. John Hill, a former lottery commissioner, Texas attorney general and chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, said Miers was fair and judicious, even during times of great turmoil at the lottery.

While Bush once called Miers a pit bull in size 6 shoes, Hill said she's always been gracious and open-minded. "She's not bullheaded and she certainly listens to other people's viewpoints," Hill said.

C. Thomas Clowe, who served with Miers for two years and succeeded her as commission chairman, said Miers "gave great attention to detail and she really wanted to get to the bottom of every issue and understand it thoroughly."

Then-Gov. George W. Bush appointed Miers to a six-year-term on the commission shortly after he was elected governor in 1994. After she'd been on the job 18 months, news surfaced that the lottery director's boyfriend had been employed as a consultant for GTECH, the lottery's main contractor.

The Miers-led commission fired the director, Nora Linares, in January maintaining she couldn't be an effective leader because she'd been so damaged by the scandal. Linares filed suit against the commission but later dropped that lawsuit and instead sued GTECH. An agreement ending the dispute with the commission exonerated Linares.

But Linares' attorney, Charles Soechting, complained that Miers took an unnecessarily hard-nose approach to his client, refusing to let her exit gracefully by resigning.

"I learned from Harriet that someone can be stone cold and at the same time act like they care," he told Texas Lawyer in 2003.

The commission fired Linares' replacement, Lawrence Littwin, in October 1997, four months after he was hired. Littwin's dismissal came amid a decline in sales, but the commission wouldn't say why he was fired. He had ruffled feathers for ordering lottery security officers to research campaign finance records of 30 current and former state officials.

Littwin claimed GTECH used its political influence to have him fired. Miers denied the accusation.

It was a lawsuit by Littwin that helped to ignite questions about whether Bush used political influence to avoid active duty during the Vietnam War.

Littwin's lawyers suggested that former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who was a lobbyist for GTECH until January 1997, helped the company keep its state contract to run the lottery in exchange for keeping silent about how he had helped Bush get into the National Guard in the late 1960s.

Barnes denied the allegations.

Miers resigned as lottery commission chairman in 2000, a year early. She said her resignation had nothing to do with lagging sales in its biggest game, Lotto Texas, but rather that she wanted to allow her successor time to prepare for rebidding the lottery's primary operator contract.

Her successor, C. Tom Clowe, Jr., said Miers "set a benchmark for ethics, legal and correct performance."

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