Professor leaves UI for White House

By Erin Calandriello

Law professor Richard Painter will be leaving the University to take on the position of chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.

As Special Assistant to President Bush and Associate White House Counsel, Painter will be held accountable for the “professional responsibility” of the White House, said Charles Tabb, Assistant Dean of the College of Law at the University.

“He can make sure that the President and the White House comply fully with the letter and spirit of all ethical rules and regulations that affect them,” Tabb said. “This is critical to inspiring public confidence in that office.”

As chief White House ethics lawyer, Painter will oversee White House officials’ required reporting of their financial holdings, handle conflicts of interest and address general ethics questions. He will report to White House General Counsel Harriet Miers, who succeeded Alberto Gonzales after Gonzales left the office to become Attorney General earlier this year, according to the University Law School’s Web site.

Painter succeeds Nanette Everson, who was hired by the White House after a controversy arose about White House counselor Karl Rove’s Enron holdings, according to an article in the Washington Post.

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When contacted for this story, Painter said White House rules forbade him from giving interviews to the press.

Cindy Paceley, director of communications at the College of Law, said Painter’s job will have an influence on the country.

“His position implies that the full power of the White House is behind ethical standards. It sends the message that ethics is important nationally,” Paceley said.

Painter has been a law professor at the University since 1996 – first as a visiting professor, then as an associate professor. He has been a full professor at the University since 2003. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1984 and received his law degree from Yale in 1987. He later clerked for John T. Noonan, Jr., a judge with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, according to the Law School Web site.

Painter is considered one of the nation’s foremost experts on corporate ethics and market regulation.

“Professor Painter is one of the most published experts on ethics and he is one of the most widely known scholars in the field of ethics in the country,” said Illinois State Representative Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, a University alum who studied under Painter as a graduate student.

Tabb agreed that Painter was the right man for the job due to his experience and knowledge. Painter was instrumental in drafting and securing passage of a key provision in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which imposed stringent ethical obligations on attorneys advising corporate clients, Tabb said. The legislation was passed in 2002 in the wake of the Enron scandal.

Painter has frequently testified before Congressional committees about the role of attorneys in corporate governance, according to the Law School Web site.

“He has experience at the highest levels of private law firm practice and in academia,” Tabb said. “He also knows everyone important in that world. He also has a good sense of how to assess issues that are not clear-cut, but are a shade of gray. He has good judgment and discretion.”

Paceley said that Professor Painter’s character will make him an asset to the White House.

“His great demeanor in addition to his knowledge and connections in the field will allow him to be successful. He is very analytical. He is not forceful and the depth of his experience will support his positions.” Paceley said. “I’m sure his professorial approach will influence his method with the White House. It’s like conducting a class. If he can communicate with students; he can communicate with the White House.”

Tabb agreed and said, “Professor Painter will be a great success. He has been an unqualified success in everything he has ever tackled.”

According to Tabb, Professor Painter will return to the College of Law. In the meantime, visiting and adjunct professors will fill in for him.

“He will be sorely missed as a teacher, a scholar and a colleague,” Tabb said.