Friday, October 21, 2005

Miers' Mysteriously Modest Bling

Perhaps until very recently, one factor had been absent in the public discussion over Harriet Miers: her net worth, or lack thereof (and if you think I'm faulting for lack of wealth itself, see below: the point I'm raising is actually quite different.

Eleven days ago, questioning her modest net worth (possibly as low as $220,000, I noted


So this woman is 60 years old, spent two decades as a successful corporate lawyer, but has a net worth smaller than that of most state university professors at an analogous point in their careers? I smell a rat.

While such a financial situation would be at least conceivable for someone who had devoted their entire life to public service, here the case was quite the opposite. Miers spent two decades at a top Dallas law firm, during much of which she was a powerful partner. I would imagine an average mediocre attorney could expect to enter corporate law in Dallas making 60-80 thousand dollars. I'm sure it was somewhat lower during the eighties, but still, adjusting for inflation, it should be roughly equivalent, so if we estimate that Miers earned 100 gs a year in today's dollars, that would total two million dollars over twenty years. Of course, she was a managing partner, so we may safely assume she made much more than that.



I touched on the subject again two days ago in a diary


And another question involves her piddly net worth.  Nothing wrong with being of modest means, but this woman, who for a decade managed the most powerful law firm in Dallas, and who has spent another decade working for George W. Bush, at the age of 60, has a net worth of less than $500,000 dollars?



Finally, someone else has taken notice.

Writing in Slate , Henry Blodget poses the
question:


"What does Harriet Miers' money tell us about her?...She managed to work for nearly 30 years as an attorney in private practice without getting rich."



Where did all of Harriet Miers' money go? Blodget speculates that it was likely spent taking care of her mother:


So, where has all that retirement money been going? Perhaps to another expense category depressingly familiar to most Americans: health-care costs. According to the Journal and AP, Miers is the primary caretaker for her 91-year-old mother, who has required in-home and nursing-home care since the mid-1990s. That a decade of her mom's health care could consume several hundred thousand dollars set aside for Miers' own retirement won't come as a surprise to anyone who has had (or paid for) a long-term illness in recent years.



This is a plausible explanation, but it does not definitively answer the question. In my posting from 11 days ago, I had very conservatively estimated Miers' income at $100,000 a year.

But this nugget from Blodget's piece makes clear just how conservative I was.

Miers left Dallas law firm Locke Liddell in 1999—and the $624,000 salary she earned as a managing partner...

So when Miers left her firm she made more annually than her current net worth.

I understand that Miers' may have spent a great deal of money caring for her mother, and that is certainly admirable. But I still don't think it accounts for Miers modest net worth. Even if, for the last 10 years, Miers has spent $100,000 a year on care for her mother, there is no reason why her three decade career with a prestigious law firm should not have left her with millions of dollars to spare. Unlike John Roberts, who is worth much more, Miers is single, and has no children.

Blodget's article also makes clear that Mier's life has been fairly frugal, so she wasn't blowing her dough on bling.

One significant possibility was that Miers made some poor investment decisions. Is this the case? If so, the public deserves to know, because any information about her judgment is pertinent to her suitability to sit on the nation's highest court.

7 Comments:

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