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Ruben Guerrero's plans to be a judge again are dashed, as local Democrats continue their inept ways

Instead of the representatives, it was more likely the old-boy lawyer network that did Guerrero in. And Ellison's supporters had an unlikely ally -- U.S. Senator Phil Gramm.

Gramm has long had a committee of 30 or so lawyers who interview judicial nominees, both when the pick is his to make during Republican administrations and when his influence is supposed to be less noticeable, when a Democrat is in the White House.

Since Clinton took office, Gramm's committee has typically interviewed only the lead candidate named by the Democrats. In the case of Guerrero and Ellison, however, the committee invited both candidates.

Green and others have gotten conflicting stories on why: Committee members have told them the White House suggested both names; Green says White House officials have denied that to him.

In any case, both lawyers were interviewed three months ago, at the downtown Houston offices of Fulbright & Jaworski -- hardly a home-court advantage for Guerrero.

"It got kind of suspicious," says Guerrero. "There were only civil lawyers there, and Keith Ellison's wife is a partner at Fulbright. It just didn't smell quite right to me. I knew something was coming down the pike."

He was right -- the committee voted to endorse Ellison. "They told me," Green said, "that they thought Keith Ellison was more qualified. I said that was not the issue -- that they had to find that Ruben Guerrero was not qualified before they could consider Keith Ellison. But they said the White House had sent both names. The White House denies that, and denied it to me yesterday."

"What I suspect," Guerrero says, "is that someone on the Gramm committee called for the two names. They made an attempt early against me in the White House, and when that didn't work they used the Gramm committee to do the dirty work."

The "White House attempt" Guerrero describes failed in part because of Green's assiduous efforts in the judge's behalf.

The congressman sent a letter to the White House in July stating clearly that the judge was the first choice. Bentsen and Lee did not sign the letter, a circumstance that some Guerrero supporters find damning. Lee's office couldn't be contacted, but Bentsen spokesman Vince Willmore says his boss never saw the letter.

Green's lobbying worked, it seemed: Last October, the White House wrote him saying it indeed intended to nominate Guerrero. That was followed, however, by the Gramm committee interviews and increasing rumors that a faction in the White House was holding out for Ellison.

As the months dragged on and the writing on the wall became clearer, Green went public with his complaints. He held a press conference in March with Hispanic politicians such as State Senator Mario Gallegos, who announced plans to picket a planned presidential visit April 14.

Shortly afterward, the delegation formally voted to withdraw Guerrero's name and recommend Ellison. The experience has left both men unhappy.

"I figured (when I first applied) that the process would take six to eight weeks.... I'm astonished how long it took," said Ellison, who's been turning away clients because of the uncertainty about his future. "The scarcest commodity throughout all this has been reliable information. It's been very unfortunate, and I have nothing but sympathy for the other people in the process." He says Guerrero is "a class act" and there has been no animosity between the two.

Guerrero's feelings, naturally, are a little more bitter. "My shot at becoming a federal judge, which was a lifelong dream for me, is probably shot," he says. "I'd like to find out why and how, but I may never get to."

Contact Richard Connelly at rich_connelly@ houstonpress.com.

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