Interview of James F. Davey
Session #5 – September 2, 2008
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of the Historical Society
of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is James F. Davey. The interviewer is
Steven P. Hollman. This interview was conducted by telephone on September 2, 2008,
commencing at 3:00 p.m.
Mr. Hollman: I thought I’d start with a few cleanup questions concerning your tenure as Clerk
of Court and then go to your life afterwards.
Mr. Davey: All right.
Mr. Hollman: So, to start with, you provided, in addition to serving as Clerk of the United States
District Court for the District of Columbia, administrative support services for the
D.C. Circuit, and I wondered if you could just take a moment or so to describe the
nature of those services?
Mr. Davey: Well, they were part of my responsibility to maintain the building, air
conditioning, cooling, so forth, and I was the liaison with GSA, who was
responsible for that. We also processed their payroll. It wasn’t a real big part of
my job, but I always remember the Clerk of the Circuit Court got as much money
as I did, and he had about a fifth of my people and about a third of my
responsibilities. But, you know, appellate rules. So that wasn’t a big deal.
Mr. Hollman: I neglected to mention that it’s September 2, 2008, and we started our interview at
3:00 p.m. So I just wanted to get that upfront in case someone’s reviewing this
years down the road.
Mr. Davey: Okay.
Mr. Hollman: Who was the Clerk of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit during your
tenure as Clerk?
Mr. Davey: Oh, jeez, I knew you were going to ask me that. We had a very good relationship,
and I can’t think of his name right now. [Hugh Kline] But we had no problems,
and his successor, we had no problems. I did have a little issue when they
appointed the Circuit Executive, and we all did. The Circuit Executive had broad
responsibilities for the Circuit. And he was the chief non-judicial officer in the
Circuit. And the District Court didn’t want anything to do with the District
Executive. The first guy was — well, I don’t want to get off on that. We had an
okay relationship. I do remember one time that I hung up on the Circuit
Mr. Hollman: What was the issue?
Mr. Davey: Charlie Nelson. It was about statistics. He just didn’t understand, and I tried to
explain it to him, and it wasn’t working. And he got a little bit upset, so I just
hung up on him. I got upset with him. So the next day I called him up, and I
said, “Hey Charlie, that was very unprofessional of me to hang up on you, and I
Two days later — he was a former captain in the Navy — I got a letter
from him, you know, telling me in no uncertain terms that we’ve got to conduct
ourselves properly, and whatever. He never set foot in my office in the three or
four years he was there because I had to go to him, you know? Whatever.
The Circuit Executive was a concept pursued by Chief Justice Burger, and
you know they also wanted a District Court Executive. And some courts have
established those, and I think I may have told you in an earlier interview when
Judge Hart was Chief Judge and he was on the Judicial Conference Court
Administration Committee, I was pushing for him to get a change in title because
District Executive would more properly describe the current responsibilities of
the clerks, you know? They were managers. And he said, “Davey, why would
you want to get rid of an ancient and honorable title like Clerk?” So that didn’t
go anywhere, but some courts have done it. You know, what’s in a name? In any
event —
Mr. Hollman: What was the driver behind the appointment of the Circuit Executive? Was that a
GSA appointment?
Mr. Davey: No, that was — the courts themselves decided that to better manage themselves,
that each Circuit should have a Circuit Executive reporting to the Court of
Appeals and have broad responsibilities over district courts. For the most part,
they ended up functioning strictly for the Court of Appeals, and they were never,
at least — we didn’t feel — we only had one district court in our Circuit.
Mr. Hollman: Who decided on the allocation of responsibility between the —
Mr. Davey: By statute — when they set the Circuit Executive up. And then it would work out
on an individual basis of where they want to stick their nose. The concept is
good, but really, they ended up, as my understanding from talking with my fellow
Clerks, for the most part the Circuit Executives end up just working for the Court
of Appeals rather than getting too much involved with the District Courts. But it
was another step to modernize the management of the U.S. court system, and they
did some good work.
Mr. Hollman: Did you have direct interface with any of the, what became Supreme Court
Justices who were on the D.C. Circuit while you were Clerk?
Mr. Davey: I did. Not often. I met Scalia often in the gym that we had upstairs, and he would
complain about the equipment not being clean and so forth, but he was okay.
And Justice Thomas I also met in the gym. I don’t know if I told you that story
Mr. Hollman: No.
Mr. Davey: I was working out late and we had — the Marshals had established a gym. This
was after the one I had created when we no longer — the courthouse was built
and it had jury — if you sequestered a jury they could sleep in the courthouse.
There were bedrooms and showers and big rooms for them. When Watergate
came along, that was the first time that they did not use those facilities. They
decided – and rightly so — to put the jurors up in a better place, in a hotel. So
those spaces became vacant, and I came up with the bright idea that we could put
a gym up there. We had plenty of showers for the bedrooms, and with very little
expense, we were able to create a gym. We used different rooms. You had
barbells in one, and stretching in another, and then we had a big Universal right
over Judge Parker’s head. There were days when I was wondering if — no, I
won’t go there. The interesting thing was that when I had to get approval from
the Administrative Office for spending some funds for that, and nobody had ever
had a gym before. I found some statute, and I got the Department of Justice’s
support that it was the responsibility of each branch to create health programs for
their people. So I got the money on the condition I wouldn’t tell any of my
buddies around the system.
But in any event, then the Marshals years later built a better one
downstairs. And I was working out late one night, and I was all by myself, and
this big guy comes in with a new boom box — not a new boom box but a boom
box – and I hadn’t seen him before. I figured he was a new Deputy Marshal. So
he goes, works out, and he puts some classical music on. And I take a shower,
and on my way out I just went over and said, “Hey, I never heard that kind of
music before in this place. I’m Jim Davey. I work for the District Court.” And
he says, “I’m Clarence Thomas. I work for the Court of Appeals.” [Laughter]
I didn’t really have much official interface with them. There were a
couple of judges up there that would call me all of the time with problems — they
needed a file or something. Bork and the two Ginsburgs and Scalia. And I saw
more of Clarence Thomas. In fact, when he was going through — he would come
to parties, and when he was going through that ordeal, I offered him the use of my
beach house if he wanted to get away. In fact, he mentioned in his book that he
had some offers of beach houses. He didn’t identify those. Whatever. That’s my
extent of contact with them.
Mr. Hollman: How about with Chief Justice Burger?
Mr. Davey: Very little. He was very much pushing for — he was there when all of this change
was coming about, and he pushed for the Court Executive and District Executive,
but I did not have any real contact with him.
Mr. Hollman: I wanted to just get back on a couple of the cases that ran through the court during
your tenure and ask if you had any comments about how the Watergate case and
the Oliver North case and the Pentagon Papers case affected the atmosphere at
the court.
Mr. Davey: Well, obviously those were big cases, and they were exciting times. Every day
you would pick up the paper and there’d be something in there about it, and it put
a lot of — I wouldn’t say pressure — but we had more activity with them,
meeting the press needs and the like, and trying to maintain a regular schedule
despite these big cases. But it was — for me and my management staff, it was a
real opportunity to develop ways of managing high-profile cases. How do you
allocate seats to the press? How do you deal with the press? How do you get
them information? And we developed a little manual for whenever a judge would
get one of these cases. We’d go up — I think I sent you maybe a copy of a letter I
had written to my staff when we got the Hinckley case about what are we going to
do when the indictment comes down, and so on. We would go to the judges and
say, Hey, this is what worked before, and they would buy, ended up buying most
of it, but everybody was a little bit different. But it was exciting to be working on
Pentagon Papers and John Hinckley and Watergate. We liked working on
something that was significant and doing our jobs well. And for the most part, I
don’t think of any real major goofs that we made, and we did get quite a few
compliments. We were in the spotlight, and everybody likes a spotlight.
Mr. Hollman: You had sort of a first row seat on cases that had, that raised the critical issue
about the extent to which the public has a right to know what the government is
doing and also about the issue of how much the public has a right to know about
matters that are winding their way through the court system. And I wondered if
you had any observations about those larger issues based on the direct experience
that you had with them?
Mr. Davey: Well, we got — when you’re — on a day-to-day basis you’re not dealing with the
issue. You just try to get through the day. But we tried — and I think we did
very well — to get as much information out to the public as we could. Quite
apart from that issue was — the thing that bothered me a lot was that there was a
lot of sealing of records — not just in these cases but in civil cases, too. And that
went against the grain of what I thought the courts should do. I never could do
much about that, and I’m trying to remember — there was one guy who was
pressing that, and I said, Hey, we’ve done all we can. You’ve got to take on the
judge. A lot of people would complain, but they wouldn’t want to irritate a judge.
But for the most part on the big cases — I’m trying to think of Watergate and all
— our main goal during those cases was to make sure that we did not
discriminate or give some member of the press some information before the other.
You know what I mean? We played no favorites.
We set up a system where we said to the press: you give us your liaison,
and we’re going to get that stuff to him or her, and then you guys can worry about
how you disperse it. We had a committee of the press to help us with these issues
— Carl Stern I remember from NBC was on it, and there was somebody else. But
when you got down to allocating seats within the courtroom, early on it wasn’t
bad, but then all of these additional — cable came along, CNN came along,
international came along, you had print, and whatever, and it’s kind of difficult to
satisfy everybody. But we worked it out by establishing that committee, and then
we would go to the judge and say, this is what we recommend if you allow sixty
press, and this if you allow thirty press. And it worked out pretty well. But I was
still bothered generally throughout my tenure that I thought there was too much
sealing of documents, but I don’t know how that’s changed.
Mr. Hollman: Any other general comments about the balance between the public’s right to
know and the right of the litigant to a fair trial, and whether the balance was
struck on one side or the other or about right?
Mr. Davey: I think they got it right. There were times when information was delayed getting
to the public. I’m think of jury selections — they didn’t want the public to know
the names and addresses of the jurors, and I felt that that was a reasonable
restriction. Overall, I thought we were a pretty open institution, but I just thought
that — I can’t give you specifics, but I just remember thinking too quick to seal
and too slow to unseal in too many cases. But overall I think the public generally
had a pretty good idea of what was going on and on a timely basis, and I’m
satisfied that in our court for the most part people, for the great part, got a fair
There was a time when we had a judge, a retired judge, who — I can’t
think of his name right now — he shouldn’t have been sitting, and nobody wanted
to take him on. And the court reporter would come to me and tell me that the
judge just doesn’t know what’s going on. And I finally remember getting a
transcript in a criminal case that showed that — and I can’t remember the
specifics — but it was clear documentation that this judge should no longer be
sitting. And I was able to take that transcript to Judge Hart, who was my Chief
Judge at the time and a military man, and I said, “Judge, you’ve got to do it.”
And he did it. He went to the judge, it was Walsh, Judge Walsh. And that was
always a sensitive subject — how long should senior judges serve. But he was
the only one that was causing us a problem, and it took us a while, but Judge Hart
did the right thing.
I do remember another case, though. Judge Sirica was the Chief Judge,
and somehow the Administrative Office was looking at its statistics and — oh, I
know, we wanted to build a couple of extra courtrooms. We used to have an
Assignment Commissioner’s office when we used to be on a master calendar, and
one of my recommendations was to get rid of that Assignment Commissioner’s
office, especially when we went to the individual calendar. And we did. And we
had all this space available, and we had a lot of senior judges sitting. So we
decided that we would convert that space into two courtrooms, small courtrooms,
and we had to go to the AO for approval. And they said, “Well, Hey, we’re
looking at this data. This Judge McLaughlin, he hasn’t done anything. Who’s
using his courtroom?” And nobody was. And so Judge Sirica said, “Jim, when
we get back, you tell Judge McLaughlin he’s got to give up his courtroom.”
Mr. Hollman: How did Judge McLaughlin take that?
Mr. Davey: I never — I said, “Judge Sirica,” — there were a few times I told the judges that
that’s their job — “you go tell Judge McLaughlin and [count] me out.” You
know, he was so far gone at that point — I don’t remember. But we did
eventually get, and needed, the extra courtrooms, even after we got the senior
judges to give up their courtrooms, because we had visiting judges and whatever.
Mr. Hollman: Well, Jim, how did you decide when it was time for you to leave?
Mr. Davey: I decided it was time for me to leave — I had a boss in Agriculture, who remained
a dear friend all of our lives, said, “Hey, Jim, if you can afford to retire at 55, then
you ought to do it.” He had, and he was about ten years older than me. And he
had gotten me to invest in the Outer Banks and buy a home down there. And I
did that, and a few other things. And every thing that Charlie said seemed to
make a lot of sense.
So when I came to be 55 — and I had gone through this — I don’t know if
I mentioned I had been sued by one of my employees, Marge Whitacre, who filed
The case is reported as Whitacre v. Davey, 890 F.2d 1168 (D.C. Cir. 1989), 19 cert. denied, 497
U.S 1038 (1990).
a civil suit against me alleging age discrimination when I selected a younger
female for chief deputy over Marge Whitacre, who was older and had more
experience. And that — she alleged a constitutional violation of her rights, and if
she had prevailed — she was seeking, I don’t know, $300,000 or $400,000 — the
government, even though they would defend me, if I had been found guilty, that
would have been out of my personal pocket. And that’s quite a, that would be
quite a way to end your career. Well, it turned out that when all was said and
done, I filed a motion to dismiss, and it was heard by — all of my district judges
recused themselves — and they gave it to a court of appeals judge that had just
come on — in fact, he’s the Chief Judge now. I can’t think of his name. He was
Chief Judge of the wiretap court too. It’ll come to mind. But he granted the
motion to dismiss after a hearing, saying that she hadn’t provided — you have to
provide sufficient evidence before you can have a wrongdoing, before a
government official has to put on a defense.
Mr. Hollman: You have to make out your own prima facie case before you shift the burden to
the other side?
Mr. Davey: Right. And she hadn’t. So then she went to the Court of Appeals, and they
upheld it, and then she went to the Supreme Court on a writ, and they denied it. 19
And about that time, I was turning 55. I said if I stay around longer and get
whacked with something else, Charlie Riser will never forgive me, and I’ll never
forgive myself. And it turned out, jeez, I’m glad I did. I mean, I’ve had 17 years
of retirement, and as you know, my wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in
2005, and even though we’re still doing things, it’s not the same. But for 12 years
or so, we were traveling all over the world. So that’s why I decided, and it was a
good decision for me.
Mr. Hollman: Were you defended in the case by the U.S. Attorney’s office?
Mr. Davey: I was.
Mr. Hollman: So at least, did you feel like you got good representation?
Mr. Davey: Oh yeah, I got excellent representation. And I told them that I thought that part of
— well, I don’t want to get into that. Marge thought that there might be
something going on between me and the younger selection, and there wasn’t.
There had never been, and I made that clear to the U.S. Attorney on our first visit,
and he said, “Well, that’s good, because otherwise you’d better open up your
wallet now.”
Mr. Hollman: And of course your selection was the woman who ended up becoming the Clerk
of Court.
Mr. Davey: Clerk of Court, yes, appointed by the court, not by me, and doing a fantastic job.
Mr. Hollman: Right, and that’s —
Mr. Davey: Nancy Mayer.
Mr. Hollman: Nancy Mayer, now Nancy Mayer-Whittington?
Mr. Davey: Yes. So things worked out well.
Mr. Hollman: Were you called upon to have to explain your decision-making within the
Mr. Davey: On that case?
Mr. Hollman: Yes, in connection with the decision to elevate Nancy despite the fact that Marge
believed she had —
Mr. Davey: Oh, I didn’t elevate her. I didn’t elevate her. The court did. Oh, no, I’m sorry.
Mr. Hollman: I mean originally as Chief Deputy?
Mr. Davey: Let’s see. There was a time — Judge Robinson was Chief Judge. There wasn’t
any of that. There was a time when I had a restriction on me. When I first came
in — well, back up. When I first came in, I had to clear all appointments, even
Grade 5s, with the court. And then gradually I got more and more control and
was able to do all of my appointments without consulting judges, except when
you get to courtroom deputies, and that gets a little trickier. You have to
obviously consult. You just can’t go in and tell Judge Gesell, here’s your new
courtroom deputy. But there was a restriction, and they put it in writing, that
Davey can appoint anybody he wants to all of these other positions, but a
selection of Chief Deputy, we want a say in. But that had gone by the time this
came up, and there was never any discussion. I didn’t have to defend it.
Mr. Hollman: And any talk from Nancy about whether it made any difference in connection
with her fulfilling her responsibilities as a Chief Deputy, that the suit was sort of
hanging over for a while?
Mr. Davey: No, Nancy — in fact, I never really talked much with Nancy about it. In fact, the
interesting thing is that Marge Whitacre continued on my staff. I took her out of
her management position and put her into a staff position in addition to not
making her Chief Deputy. And that was — I think she was going to challenge
that as retaliation, but my point was that she did continue to serve in a staff
capacity. She did well, and there were people who came into the office after that
and worked and never knew there was anything going on between me and Marge.
We both maintained professional attitude — at least I did. She had — one of the
things she had done before I appointed her, appointed Nancy — I didn’t know
this until after she filed her suit — was that she had stolen some documents from
my desk —
[End TAPE 1, Side A; begin TAPE 1, Side B]
Mr. Davey: — and these were very confidential. That was a clear violation of trust there.
Mr. Hollman: Did you discuss that with her?
Mr. Davey: Pardon me?
Mr. Hollman: Did you ever discuss that with her?
Mr. Davey: With Marge?
Mr. Hollman: Yes.
Mr. Davey: Yes, I did.
Mr. Hollman: What was her reaction?
Mr. Davey: I forget specifically, but she was defiant at that point, saying that whatever,
anything was fair game.
Mr. Hollman: Let’s talk about post-court and your return to Rhode Island.
Mr. Davey: Okay. Before I do that, there’s a couple of things that I just wanted to mention.
Mr. Hollman: Sure.
Mr. Davey: Just a funny one about Judge Gesell. He never was for celebrations, and in fact,
he didn’t attend my retirement ceremony even though he was in the court. He
didn’t believe in that stuff. But when he turned 70 I got — I guess it was Judge
Robinson or whoever was the Chief — to agree that we could, at the — they
happened to have a judge’s executive session at the time of his 70 birthday, and th
they allowed me to come up and bring a cake from the Clerk’s office, and we also
had champagne in paper cups. The next morning Judge Gesell calls me. He said,
“Jim, I want to come down and thank the Clerk’s office. Where in the hell is it?”
Can you believe that? He had been in the court for 20 years or more and would
come park in the basement, take the elevator up to the second floor, and never had
been down to the Clerk’s office.
Mr. Hollman: That’s amazing.
Mr. Davey: That’s amazing. The other note I had, Aubrey Robinson, I think I had mentioned
in an earlier interview that I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, that he
always put the interests of the court above his own interests. And he was tough.
And we went on an individual assignment system back in the 70’s, and when
somebody became a Chief Judge, we encouraged them to take a reduced case
load, but the peer pressure was such that they felt they had to keep their case load.
Now, they may have ended up dropping their criminal case load after a few Chief
Judges, but Aubrey was the first one that said, “I’m getting rid of — I’ll keep the
cases I have, but I’m not getting any more new ones, but I’ll help out when
somebody needs some help.” But he knew that managing that court needed more
emphasis, and I admired him for being the one that would break through that
mold. And he did help out quite a bit with judges. The other — just an overall
picture of — if I could just sum up about 20 years of being the Clerk of the Court.
When —
Mr. Hollman: Well, I was going to ask you about your legacy at the end, but —
Mr. Davey: Oh, okay.
Mr. Hollman: I think actually it fits in here, so go right ahead.
Mr. Davey: Well, I just wanted to say that when I came into the court system, I came in
because I was part of a management study that was called for by the Senate
Judiciary Committee, who thought that the whole system of justice in the District
of Columbia was a mess, not only federal but local, and they had huge backlogs
and crying for more judges, and crying for more people. And they were reluctant
to give it without having a fresh, objective look at what was really going on. So
that’s — and then they, there was a committee of lawyers called the Committee
for the Administration of Justice that was formed by the Bar to oversee this study.
In fact, some of the judges, some of the lawyers on that committee — Judge
Gesell, June Green, John Pratt, Tom Flannery — all became District Court
judges. Newell Ellison was the Chair of that committee.
In any event, we went in for a year and a half, and we studied, and we
found all kinds of problems, felt that at least on the federal level they didn’t need
more judges or more people, they needed better organization, better management.
The court asked me to come over to be Chief Deputy, and I did, and
during that period I helped them prepare a plan for converting civil cases from a
master to an individual system. I’m losing my train of thought. Going to the
individual calendar system. So we started back then to make some changes, not
only in the way the judges operated, the individual calendar system, and that was
because there were judges like Judge Robinson and Judge Gesell and the like, that
the newcomers could see that the old way of doing business wasn’t the way to do
it. So they only had an 8-7 majority at the time, so it wasn’t a piece of cake. But
between the younger judges converting from the master to the individual and me
being given more freedom, we went from being a dysfunctional institution over a
period to being a very functional organization.
And I say “we.” I was just part of that overall effort that included
leadership from the judges and eventually developing a management team that
was thinking alike. And that took time, but we developed — I was very proud of
what we did in the Clerk’s office because we were innovative and modernlooking. We were one of the first to computerize. We were one of the first to cut
back on jury expenses by reducing the number of jurors we called in, even if it
meant the judge had to wait. We developed a handbook for managing the grand
jury process that the AO indicated saved millions of dollars nationwide because
there hadn’t been any controls on the U.S. Attorneys bringing them in and making
them sit around — whatever. We developed an earned reputation for people that
wanted to do things better.
In fact, I remember one clerk said that he told his people when they were
looking to — what do we do here? And he said, ah, “Check with Davey’s office.
They’ve tried everything at least once.” So I was proud to be part of that
conversion from a dysfunctional system to a court that had a very good
And I think I indicated earlier that one of my goals was to — when I left
— was for the court to be able to select my successor from somebody that had
come from within our career development program. And that happened. That
made me feel real good.
And during this period we were having all of these highly publicized
cases, and that made it even more exciting. And when I left, I felt good. I didn’t
feel I had done everything that could have been done, but I knew that I had done
well and that I had worked for an important institution. And in retirement, it’s
nice to be able to say that, you know, you didn’t waste 20 years in a dead-end job.
Mr. Hollman: Jim, you talked a bit about the different views of various judges concerning how
they could best serve the system, some by sitting on the bench for every possible
minute, some by adhering to a rigorous schedule for the case. What was your
view from the 10,000 foot level looking back on how the federal district court can
best serve its function?
Mr. Davey: Do what Judge Gesell did. Take his principles and apply them. That would be
the — I mean, you get the lawyers in early, you set a schedule, you say, Hey, if
anything comes up, I’m available. We don’t need to file a lot of papers. And he
kept that schedule no matter what. And he only had one law clerk, and he
consistently had the most current calendar. And that used to drive Judge Richey
nuts. But Judge Richey would not — even though he had a lot of good qualities, I
think he pushed the lawyers a little too much to get rid of cases. But Judge
Gesell’s system of setting a clear schedule, sticking with it, being available at any
time, that gives everybody justice quicker. It’s cheaper. Most of the cases settle
anyway no matter what you do. Ninety percent of the civil cases settle. I don’t
know what the plea rate is. So the idea is to get them to that final point as quickly
and as efficiently and as cheaply as possible. This waiting around for justice that
happens too frequently is costly to the litigants, and it leaves a bad taste in their
mouth for having to wait to have their day in court. So I have no hesitation of
saying that the simple system of Judge Gesell, and also it helps to be bright like
he is, too.
Mr. Hollman: Let me take you now to your post-Clerk of Court career. So you retired in 2001
and decided to return to Rhode Island?
Mr. Davey: No, I retired in 1991.
Mr. Hollman: ’91. Sorry.
Mr. Davey: And the first thing that the AO did was offer me a consulting contract to contact
all of the district courts in the country to see what their problems were with the
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. And I’m saying to myself, I’ve been
trying to tell these guys for free for 20 years what they’re doing wrong. Now
they’re going to pay me. [Laughter] So I took the job, and that’s the only paying
job related to — until I got elected to office. And I did that the following year
and released a report, and I don’t know how much came of that. And then I had
the opportunity – you know, the Iron Curtain was coming down. Came down in
’91, didn’t it?
Mr. Hollman: I think thereabouts.
Mr. Davey: So these countries that had been under the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe needed
some help in setting up their court systems. And through an outfit CEELI,
Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative, they had judges and court
administrators go over and spend some time, and I had the opportunity to work
with a judge in Estonia — an American judge in Estonia — and in Macedonia,
three fellow clerks. And that was tremendously interesting and exciting work.
Estonia ended up listening to us; Macedonia didn’t.
So then I got involved — you know, when you’re working you don’t have
time to do a lot of civic stuff, so I ended up getting involved with my community
and I still continued on as treasurer of the FCCA Foundation, and we created an
award for front-line deputies. It was pretty much my baby. I wanted to be sure
that those people right on the front lines who were — the people that come in
contact with the court, where these front-line people do a great job representing
the court — they ought to be recognized and rewarded. So we created a public
service award, and every year we give at least one person $1,500 for doing a good
job, a great job servicing the public. And I became president of my civic
association and whatever.
And then I went back to Rhode Island in 2001 where we had grown up.
We had spent 40 years in Washington, so that was most of our life at that point,
but our real home was Rhode Island. And when I got back to Rhode Island, I
started getting involved — Rhode Island is pretty corrupt politically. I started
attending city council meetings, and it became — I’ll shorten this up — but it
became clear to me that the heavy — they have the fifth highest tax burden in the
country. You can go on and on and on. But the dominant people in that system
are the public sector labor unions — the police, the fire and the teachers, and they
wring these — they negotiate these unbelievably generous contracts out of these
weak-kneed city council people, to the extent that an excessive amount of our
taxes was going into the pockets of police and fire and teachers, which is a hard
group to attack. But when you can retire at 20 years — your retirement is based
not only on your salary but on longevity payments and holiday pay and you get
free health insurance. I mean, it was just unbelievable the way they were — how
generous these contracts were. And they were outside the budget process because
— in fact, the budget process only accounted for maybe 25 percent of the town’s
budget. And the town had the lowest rating in the country — bond rating, so I
started attending city council meetings, and I started speaking up about these
Mr. Hollman: Am I crazy to imagine that you didn’t endear yourself to public employees by
speaking up on this issue?
Mr. Davey: Oh, of course. There was one time when I spoke up at a city council meeting, and
it was lined with firemen because they knew I was going to be talking about them.
You’re supposed to identify yourself, and I went up, I said, Hey, do you mind if I
pass on my name? [Laughter] At one point I asked the city council, one of whom
was the head of the labor union in the adjoining county, adjoining town — he
lived in Cranston — I was wondering, I said, what is the public policy
justification for giving longevity payments and extra holiday pay to retirees? And
these were big amounts. And there was silence.
And then finally this one councilman said, “Mr. Davey, I don’t know what
the policy justification for it is, but I know it’s in the contract.” [Laughter]
In any event — no, it was tough. Then a bright, young guy comes on the
scene by the name of Steve Laffey, and he’s running for mayor, and I support
him, and he beats a well-established politician. And he starts making noises
about the unions. He’s going to be a union-buster. That was in 2002.
So 2004 rolls around, and a couple of Laffey’s people say, Jim, you know,
you ought to run for state representative against Frank Montanaro. And he was
the poster child of the union movement. I mean his father was the head of the
labor — IS head of the labor movement in Rhode Island, and this guy had served,
Frank Jr., had served nine consecutive terms, and he only needed one more term
to be eligible for a pension — not only from his day job — he worked for Rhode
Island College of Education — Rhode Island politicians work during the
afternoons — they start at 4:00, so whatever.
I said, no, I’ve never been in politics. But about two weeks before, I said,
you know, what the hell? In Rhode Island, one of the things that bothered me,
Steve, you’d talk to Rhode Islanders, they’d say this is the way it is in Rhode
Island. You’ve got to get used to it. It’ll never change. And I said, “It’ll never
change unless you make it change.” So I said, if I’m going to walk my talk, I’ll
run against this son-of-a gun. I’ll pretend it’s a marathon, and I’ll just get ready
for a marathon. If I make it, I make it.
So, two weeks before, I decided to run. Frank was there the day I filed my
papers. And he was standing outside the place you have to file your papers, and
he saw me coming. And he said, “Who are you running against, Davey?”
I said, “You.”
He said, “Why don’t you run against Senator Lanzi? You know, there’s
only 38 senators, and there’s 75 of us representatives.” And then he said, “You
know, there’s another Republican that just filed, and you’re going to have a
And I said, “Yeah, I checked him out, and he didn’t file in time.”
Whatever. I started running against him, and nobody gave me a shot, even the
Republicans. But I put a campaign staff together of three people — one, I got a
treasurer so I didn’t have to worry about the financial angle of it. I was willing to
spend my own money. It turned out that I raised enough so I didn’t have to spend
a dime of my own money. I got, to chair my Committee, the former Chairman of
the Cranston City Council, who knew Cranston politics in and out. He was a
Democrat. I was running as a Republican. I was registered an Independent and
ran as a Republican. And then I had another guy who was a speechwriter for
O’Neill, the former U.S. Speaker of the House from Massachusetts.
Mr. Hollman: Tip O’Neill?
Mr. Davey: Yes. So I got good advice, and the main thing I did, Steve, is I hit every door in
my district at least once. I also had a good resume. And I remember one 90-yearold guy telling me, he said, “Hey, Mr. Davey, I’ve been a Democrat all my life,
but I’m voting for you, and you know why?” He said, “I’m getting by on $1,000
a month on my Social Security, and I’m paying for my life insurance, and I’m
paying for them damn firemen.”
So I edged Frank out. Oh, I’ve got to tell you one other story. When you
go politicking, you got to — you knock on every door, and you have a card that
you give them that has all of your bio stuff, and I wasn’t paying attention one day,
and I knocked on this one door, and I looked, and it was Frank, Sr., the head of
the labor movement in Rhode Island, and I’m running against his son. [Laughter]
Mr. Hollman: How did he appreciate your visit?
Mr. Davey: Well, I said, “You’re not going to need this card.”
And he said, “You know, Frank’s had a number of opponents, and just
keep it clean.”
And I said, “There’s not any problem on this end.”
Biographical material on Representative Davey is attached at Tab 17 20
A Press Release on the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2005 is attached at Tab 18. 21
So, I tell you — and then election night, everybody — Laffey had a lot of
people, he had a lot of support, and there were a lot of other people that ran at the
same time that I did for Senate and House. And I had a little party over at my
house, and I had sent runners to all of the eight different polling places, and we
knew that we pulled it off around 9:00. And then we went over to the Laffey
headquarters where everybody else was to join in the celebration, but it turned out
nobody else made it. Laffey was reelected, of course, but nobody else made it.
So it took some of the fun out of that. But not a lot. To beat that guy —
whatever. In fact, when I got to the state house, the guys said, you don’t really
have any idea what you just did.
Mr. Hollman: You were sworn in in January of ’05, and by February, you were introducing the 20
Taxpayer Relief Act of 2005. 2
Mr. Davey: I did. And that was pretty much Laffey’s program that I introduced on his behalf,
and that Taxpayer Relief Act, if you looked at it, would have really cut those
union folks back. And I got hearings but no votes. No votes. They wouldn’t
even report it out of committee, although by that time they were getting to know
me, and I don’t know if it was then or whenever that I took the Chief Justice on.
Do you have that?
Mr. Hollman: No.
Mr. Davey: The Chief Justice had established a Web site that talked about the courts and all,
but it also talked about — he’s a Lincoln scholar — Chief Justice Williams —
and if you want to have him for a speech, you click this thing and, you know, fees
to be established. And so I wrote an open letter to him that the Journal published,
saying that I thought that was a breach of his duty — not to use his office for
personal gain and the like. In fact, I pointed out, one of my Chiefs, Judge Hart, he
said, you know I never made a friend, a new friend after I became Chief. He just
didn’t feel it was right. That was the other extreme. But after some moaning and
groaning, the Chief Justice took the Web site down.
And the other thing was that we had a voting — I don’t know, did you get
that voting fraud — we had a vote taken where the leadership lost a vote — they
didn’t lose too many. We had 13 Republicans. We had some dissident
Democrats. But we rarely had enough votes to do anything against the
leadership. But they lost a vote on a motion, and then the No. 2 guy in the
leadership comes out: “There’s voting fraud; there’s voting fraud in here.
Flannery, who has voted FOR, and some others — they’re not here.” And it
turned out that one of the other representatives who sat near them just had turned
around and pushed Flannery’s button and another button.
And I gave a talk on the floor that night. I said, Hey, I really commend
you for, you know, to the No. 2 guy in the Democrat Party, for pointing this out,
this fraud. Well, I was still naive. It turned out that the only reason they did it is
it was against them. And on the re-vote, they won. Well, there it sat until a
Democratic friend of mine in Cranston, he said, you know, I went through all
those other votes. There were 11 other votes that night where this guy voted for
these absent people, but they were all in favor of the leadership, so the leadership
didn’t question those.
So I went to the Speaker and said, you’ve got to do something about this.
Am I going too far on this stuff here, Steve?
Mr. Hollman: No, although I’m going to have to stop. I’m out of time for today.
[End of TAPE for 9/2 session]