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Senator Urges Probe of Phone Warning by Committee Aide to Pro-Bork Witness

October 19, 1987|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N.H.) called Sunday for an investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee to determine whether a black law professor was intimidated from testifying last month in favor of Judge Robert H. Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court.

The professor, John T. Baker of Indiana University Law School, decided not to testify as scheduled Sept. 28 after a phone call from Linda Greene, a lawyer appointed to the Judiciary Committee staff last year by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio). The incident, in which she warned Baker that his appearance might turn into a painful ordeal, was reported Sunday in the New York Times.

Greene said Sunday that she made the call to advise a friend, not as any attempt at intimidation, and Metzenbaum said Humphrey's statement merely shows that the pro-Bork forces are desperate as Bork's nomination awaits a final vote on the Senate floor.

Professor Unavailable

Baker, who resigned last year as dean of Howard University Law School after expressing dissatisfaction with educational standards, did not return phone calls Sunday. But in a letter last week to Metzenbaum, he took "complete responsibility for my decision" not to testify. He said he took the step after conferring with "people supporting and opposing" the Bork nomination "concerning both the risks and benefits of testifying."

Humphrey, a Judiciary Committee member, denounced Greene's action as "highly offensive . . . irregular and perhaps illegal. . . . Inasmuch as a black was intimidated, it smacks of Ku Klux Klan tactics," Humphrey said. Greene is also black.

Metzenbaum, a leading opponent of the Bork nomination, responded in a statement that "this shows how desperate the White House has become. . . . The issue is Judge Bork's views and record, not a private conversation between two longtime friends."

'Sisterly Love' Cited

Greene, a counsel for the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, of which Metzenbaum is chairman, said Sunday that the call was her idea and that Metzenbaum did not sanction it or know of it.

"I did it out of sisterly love for a fellow black professor," Greene, who has taught law at the University of Oregon, Harvard and Georgetown, said in a telephone interview Sunday.

Her immediate superior, Eddie Correia, chief counsel of the subcommittee, said in a separate interview that he had no plans to put tough questions to Baker or even to attend the Sept. 28 hearing at which Baker was to testify.

Greene called Baker, the only black law professor scheduled to testify on Bork's behalf, on Sept. 27 and, according to the New York Times account, asked him "if he was prepared to answer the tough questioning he was going to get" about the controversy concerning his resignation from Howard and about issues of constitutional law that he might not be familiar with.

'You Become the Issue'

"I told him, 'If you come here, you become the issue,' " the paper quoted her as saying.

Baker resigned from Howard last May in a dispute over whether a group of law students should have been permitted to graduate despite a law faculty decision that they were ineligible. Baker had protested in a memo that Howard law students were "not being properly educated . . . research and scholarship are practically nonexistent."

However, Howard University President James E. Cheek said at the time that he requested Baker's resignation because of "incompetence" and "insubordination."

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