Now in Legal Rebels:
Posted Jan 01, 2008 03:49 pm CST
When this article was posted online on December 12, 2007, it was titled “Lawyers of the Year 2007 and 2008.” The article defined that term as the year’s biggest legal newsmaker, identifying former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as the major newsmaker of 2007. The Journal regrets that we did not make this theme clear.
We appreciate the feedback we’ve received, and we’re acting on it. So that there can be no confusion, the term “Lawyers of the Year” has been changed in the headline and story to “Newsmakers of the Year.” The story is otherwise unchanged from its original version.
This article, like all in the Journal, is the work of the magazine’s editorial staff. As is the magazine’s practice, it was not reviewed by the Journal’s volunteer Board of Editors, the ABA’s Board of Governors, or its officers, prior to publication. The Journal will continue to strive to provide high quality news to its readership.
Naming a legal newsmaker of the year for the 12 months that have just ended is easy. Naming the newsmaker of the year for a year that hasn’t begun would normally be evidence of hubris or a touch of insanity.
But not this year.
The top legal story of 2007 was unquestionably the unraveling of support for the Bush administration’s expansive view of presidential power during wartime, and with it, the slow-motion destruction of Alberto Gonzales’ reign as U.S. attorney general. Add to that the controversy over whether the administration fired eight U.S. attorneys for political reasons, and no single lawyer made more news in 2007 than Gonzales.
And now, all of those problems have been dumped in the lap of the new AG, former federal judge Michael Mukasey. How he’ll deal with them—in the middle of a presidential campaign, no less—promises to make him the top legal newsmaker of 2008.
What follows is our opinionated look at those two attorneys and the cast of characters—prosecutors and defense lawyers, government lawyers and those in private practice, Republicans and Democrats—who made legal news in 2007, along with our predictions of who will take their places in the headlines of 2008.
The list is meant to spark a lively debate. Tell us who makes your list of the legal newsmakers of the year by dropping us a note at email@example.com, or commenting on this story on ABAJournal.com. Let the arguments begin.
The most talked-about attorney this past year by a mile, Gonzales, 52, rose from being the grandson of illegal immigrants to the first Hispanic attorney general of the United States. George W. Bush appeared to be grooming the man he affectionately calls “Fredo” for the U.S. Supreme Court. But after Gonzales appeared veracity-challenged when testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he resigned in August.
Gonzales went from “Latino Lawyer of the Year” in 1999 to become the subject of several investigations involving use of the Justice Department as a political tool.
Before becoming attorney general, Gonzales authored—or at least authorized as White House general counsel—a memo describing the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” and presided, at least nominally (see David Addington), over what now appears to have been a stealth campaign to reinstate pre-Watergate presidential authority.
His determination to do so is epitomized in a now-infamous hospital-room meeting with an incapacitated John Ashcroft in an unsuccessful effort to gain approval for a secret wiretapping program. The highlight: Ashcroft’s wife sticking her tongue out at Gonzales and his entourage as they retreated from Ashcroft’s bedside.
George W. Bush’s nomination of this former federal prosecutor and judge from New York drew raves, even from Democrats like New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who once championed Mukasey for the U.S. Supreme Court. But Mukasey has his work cut out for him as the nation’s 81st attorney general.
While on the bench Mukasey developed a strong grounding in terrorism cases, having presided over the prosecution of Omar Abdel Rahman. But now one of Mukasey’s first tasks will be to review the secret legal opinions upon which the administration has been conducting its war against terrorists. During his confirmation hearings, Mukasey refused to tip his hand, but he could make a dramatic statement by simply making the opinions public.
We won’t try to predict. Mukasey proved himself capable of surprises when he ruled that “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla—an American accused of terrorism-related activities—was entitled to see his lawyers. But he also surprised senators from both parties during his confirmation hearings when he eschewed an opportunity to declare that the controversial technique known as “waterboarding” is, by legal standards, a form of torture.
Mukasey has noted his belief that the current judicial system in this country is ill-equipped to combat Islamist terrorism and Congress should consider creating special courts to resolve the problem. We’ll see where he goes with that. But he can make his mark by simply stemming the exodus of career attorneys in the civil rights and regulatory sections of the department, the bulwark of stability in a system that has suffered some severe problems of trust and credibility in recent years.
As recently appointed Durham County, N.C., district attorney, Nifong drew national headlines with the racially charged investigation and indictment of three members of the Duke University lacrosse team in the alleged kidnapping and rape of an exotic dancer during a team party in March 2006. The students were white, the dancer was black.
Nifong, who was up for election, ran, and won, based on the notoriety he gained from the case. Less than a month after the election, however, the case began to unravel, as questions about the forensic evidence and the dancer’s credibility, as well as Nifong’s conduct, brought intervention by the North Carolina attorney general.
The case was dropped in April when it was discovered that Nifong had ordered exculpatory DNA evidence to be withheld from the defense. In June, his license to practice was revoked by the North Carolina State Bar. In September, Nifong spent a brief time behind bars for having lied to the court.
Nifong, now 57, faces a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit from the exonerated lacrosse players. Jim Cooney, an attorney for one of the players, told the Associated Press: “He probably feels like he’s in a lake of fire right now. But if he does, he needs to come to the realization that he set that fire.”
It took two decades, but Libby, 57, managed the dubious distinction of being the highest-ranking White House official convicted in a government scandal since National Security Adviser John Poindexter of the Iran-Contra scandal. Libby earned his nickname when his father watched him scoot over the bars of his crib; he’s also affectionately known as “Germ Boy” for his insistence upon universal smallpox vaccination.
Libby was one of the administration’s “Vulcans”—a charter member of the neoconservative network of foreign policy analysts that includes Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld. In March, a federal jury convicted Libby of perjury and lying to federal officials investigating the leaked identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose ambassador-husband publicly criticized the Bush administration for entering the Iraq war. Bush saw to it that Libby did not serve a day in prison, commuting his 30-month sentence; Libby paid his $250,000 fine. Not since Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for his involvement in the Watergate scandal did presidential leniency provoke such outrage.
He shares the same first and last names of the famed New York shock jock and is no less shocking on his own. Stern, 39, is one of those rare one-client attorneys who made his name and his living representing the larger-than-life (and sometimes big as her bathtub) Vickie Lynn Marshall, aka Anna Nicole Smith.
In his over-the-top representation of the former Playboy Playmate who married rich and old before dying at age 39, Stern first made a splash in 2006 as the man on her arm at the U.S. Supreme Court, where Smith sought reinstatement of an $88 million judgment won in a bankruptcy case. After that, he went into overdrive.
He created a mock marriage with her and proclaimed himself the doting father of her daughter, Dannielynn. When Smith died in February under suspicious circumstances—some five months after her 20-year-old son died—the real father presented DNA to a court in Nassau and won custody of the infant heir. Soon after, everything from the Nassau house where Smith lived to her last resting place became fodder for litigation involving Stern.
Smith’s mother, Virgie Arthur, hit Stern with a defamation suit, slipping in a few choice charges about the lawyer’s “manipulation” of her estranged daughter.
Bill Clinton had his Monica problem, and so did George W. Bush this year. While Monica Lewinsky’s extracurricular activities led to the impeachment of the leader of the free world, Monica Goodling’s overly zealous and questionably legal actions merely led to her own resignation and renewed debate about the proper role of politics within the Justice Department.
Goodling, 34, served as the director of public affairs for the Justice Department under Ashcroft and senior counsel and White House liaison under Gonzales. A lawyer and Bush appointee, Goodling admitted she “crossed the line” in her job of screening who to hire and who to fire at Justice by doing so on the basis of party affiliation.
Goodling became embroiled in the controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys that ultimately contributed to the resignation of her boss, Gonzales. When she resigned on April 6, Goodling told Gonzales in a written statement: “May God bless you richly as you continue your service to America.”
At first, Goodling invoked Fifth Amendment protection when subpoenaed to testify before Congress, but later told all when granted limited immunity.
While it’s hard to imagine anyone too liberal to teach law, especially in California, Chemerinsky, 54, became saddled with that description when, in September, he was tapped to become the first dean of the law school scheduled to open at the University of California at Irvine in 2009.
But within weeks of the announcement, the job offer was yanked from Chemerinsky, a highly accomplished constitutional scholar and Supreme Court litigator whose clients include Valerie Plame and a Guantanamo detainee.
Chancellor Michael V. Drake said he came to believe that the Duke University law professor’s commentaries ran contrary to the interests of the state’s first new public law school in four decades. But conservative and liberal legal scholars rallied as one to deride the decision to un-hire, with the media firestorm growing so intense that within days, the decision to drop him was reversed. Chemerinsky is now slated to become founding dean of the Donald Bren School of Law.
Addington, 51, is the kind of man who likes to live dangerously in a dangerous world. Longtime associate and admirer-in-chief of Dick Cheney for more than two decades, Addington replaced Libby as the vice president’s chief of staff and keeps in his office a photo of his boss firing a shotgun. According to those who have dealt with him, Addington shares his boss’s belief that the president should have unlimited powers in time of war—and should have carte blanche in dealing with the thorny issues of torture, secret detention and warrantless eavesdropping. Though never one to play to the cameras, his reputation for determination (or simply “getting his way,” as former colleagues have termed it) has pushed him from the shadows at the top tier of the war on terrorism.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, upon hearing about the Bush administration’s efforts to circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, remarked, “It’s Addington. He doesn’t care about the Constitution.”
Hardworking, humorous, smart as a whip and once included in People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” roundup, what’s not to love about Fitzgerald? Well, the bad guys might not like him too much. Deemed one of the world’s best terrorism prosecutors by the 9/11 Commission, as an assistant U.S. attorney Fitzgerald indicted Osama bin Laden years before the hijackers slammed into the Twin Towers and Pentagon.
Before that, he convicted Omar Abdel Rahman, aka the “blind sheik,” for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He helped prosecute Mafia figures and put former Illinois Gov. George Ryan behind bars. Now add “Scooter” Libby to his list of conquests.
Going after Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff didn’t do much to endear Fitzgerald to the current administration. Sending out subpoenas to members of the press didn’t make him a hero of liberals, either. He kept then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller cooling her heels for 85 days in stir until she agreed to testify before a grand jury in what became the Libby case.
Fitzgerald, 47, a first-generation American whose parents hail from Ireland’s County Clare, seems to take it all in stride. From humble origins as the son of a Manhattan doorman, Fitzgerald went on to Amherst and then Harvard Law School. He currently serves as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Oh, and the 6-foot-2 former rugby player plans to lose his bachelor status as early as this spring.
He’s no Atticus Finch. In fact, he may be the anti-Atticus, an impeccably groomed BigLaw bagman who specializes in expedient ways to make problems go away. But as played by George Clooney, he comes with enough character flaws to make his choice of “practice area” understandable, if not forgivable. Like many lawyers he’s entrepreneurial, having opened a bar with his alcoholic brother. But like some lawyers, he’s also overextended from the experience. As a successful former prosecutor, Clayton has the very lawyerly ability to see things as they are, and the kind of complicated character to understand the subversive nature of compromise. He knows when and how to turn the tables on the uptight corporate lawyer who bumped off his friend—a suspension of disbelief is required here. But pity the corporate lawyer who sees her job as a life-and-death game and loses.
These days anybody with a penchant for the word can get on the Web and grouse. And we’ve reserved a spot here for those who do just that because 2007 was the year lawyer-bloggers—some call them blawgers—came into their own.
Sure, law blog superstars like David Lat and Tom Goldstein have been churning out content for a while now, but the last year saw a plethora of law blogs begin to insert themselves into the most significant daily news and legal issues debates alongside their counterparts in journalism and academe.
From the Duke lacrosse team fiasco in North Carolina to the high-profile “Family Secrets” Mob trial in Chicago, bloggers made their presence known with a flourish, sometimes to the chagrin of the judges and lawyers involved. But the influence of the lawyer-blogger goes beyond that.
Whether by a single practitioner who wants to share his or her problems and experiences opening an office, or a BigLaw associate who wants to dish the dirt about the practice, the lawyer-bloggers are finding an audience for their work, and we salute them.
This founding partner in what was the nation’s leading plaintiffs securities class-action firm seems like an odd choice for 2008. Milberg Weiss, which claims to have collected $45 billion for cheated investors over four decades, is now under federal indictment for allegedly paying several clients millions of dollars in kickbacks to sign on as lead plaintiffs. So far, three former partners have pleaded guilty.
But the 72-year-old Weiss, who once wielded lawsuits like a weapon as a self-described avenger for investors against corporate greed, pleaded not guilty in October to four federal charges and posted $1.5 million in bail. In his forthcoming trial, prosecutors will allege that in a span of 25 years the firm raked in $250 million on more than 150 cases where it paid kickbacks. All that money—combined with stories of the Picassos and lavish estates in Boca Raton and Oyster Bay—will make him one talked-about lawyer, be it in terms of hubris or High Noon.
He’s the juice behind “The Juice.” A former Miami prosecutor, Galanter has made a cottage industry out of representing O.J. Simpson ever since the former football star fled California for a Miami suburb in 2000.
Galanter defended Simpson in a subsequent road-rage case that could have sent him away for 16 years. Since then, Simpson has provided Galanter with numerous opportunities to speak on his behalf: a federal drug raid on the Simpson home in 2001; a ticket for speeding in a manatee zone in 2002; a domestic violence call in 2003; and on the publishing fiasco that surrounded the abominable book project If I Did It—Simpson’s as-if-it-were-fictional account of how he would have carried out the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman.
In September, Simpson was charged with three other men for breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room and holding two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint in a dispute over items Simpson claims were stolen from him. Galanter will be representing him, and you will be talking about him—in spite of yourself.
Her memoir, A Piece of Cake, has already been well-publicized, but this year San Leandro, Calif., attorney Cupcake Brown (yeah, it’s the name on her law license, but it wasn’t on her birth certificate) is quitting her practice to write a screenplay based on A Piece of Cake, which recounts how she managed to become an attorney at a prestigious law firm following her mother’s death, rape while in foster care, prostitution at age 12, involvement with a gang and abuse of drugs.
The skeptical question the veracity of the tale, but count among her supporters friend and former professor Paul Sutton, who teaches criminal justice at San Diego State University. “Cup is for real. End of story,” Sutton told one reporter. Truth be told, however, much of what Brown says cannot be verified. No records of her foster care, of a gunshot wound she says she suffered, and no rap sheet as a self-proclaimed former member of the Crips.
Still, even if just a third of her tale is true, Brown will be oft-applauded for passing the bar, landing a job at Bingham McCutchen, and then walking away from it all last August to pursue her writing and motivational speaking careers, which is why you’ll be talking about Brown.
OK, in the pageant of life you can’t go wrong saying you support the rule of law. But as ABA president and partner in the Seattle office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, Neukom is in a good position to do something about it.
No doubt his connections to Microsoft, where he was chief lawyer for nearly a quarter century, paid off. Last March the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ponied up a $1.75 million grant to help underwrite the ABA’s World Justice Project. Designed to advance the rule of law in the United States and abroad, the project seeks input from government officials, academics and nongovernmental organizations, as well as the nontraditional fields of architecture, the clergy, education, engineering, the environment, labor, the media, medicine and the military.
Yeah, he’s the boss around here, and we know what this looks like. But we think the rule of law is important in ways both big and small. For example, organizations delivering AIDS drugs in Africa can do their job more effectively if laws exist and are followed, free of conflict and corruption.
As a Republican party activist and attorney, Simpson worked on Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s gubernatorial campaign, but later shocked her GOP friends by accusing Karl Rove, President Bush’s former top political adviser, of instigating and influencing the prosecution of Riley’s chief Democratic adversary. Simpson’s claim, made under oath, has thus far stayed out of the national media spotlight. But that could well change if Democrats pursue, as threatened, hearings about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Simpson’s allegation links the White House to the corruption case against former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman, who is now serving an 88-month sentence.
In a 143-page sworn statement to the House Judiciary Committee, Simpson says she learned of Rove’s involvement during a campaign conference call, and also alleges that Riley helped stack the deck against the former governor by assigning a hanging judge to oversee Siegelman’s case. Riley has denied her allegations, telling Time magazine last fall: “Ms. Simpson’s statements have gone from being not only untrue to absurd and ridiculous.” Whatever the case, Simpson could be telling her story before the white hot lights of a congressional hearing. She will be talked about, whether or not she is believed.
This election the Democrats have the corner on presidential couples who also share a life in the law. There’s John and Elizabeth Edwards, who met as law students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Everybody knows that John was a hotshot personal injury lawyer. But Elizabeth worked first as a judicial clerk and then at law firms in Nashville and Raleigh, and also gave birth to two children. She retired from the practice of law when their eldest son, Wade, 16, died in a freak car accident in 1996, after which the Edwardses had two more children. Elizabeth was diagnosed with breast cancer while on the campaign trail in 2004, when her husband ran as vice president on John Kerry’s ticket.
Then there is Barack and Michelle Obama. Although both Obamas went to Harvard Law, they didn’t meet until they worked together at the same firm. Michelle mentored her future husband at the Chicago branch of Sidley Austin. Not only did she later go on to work for Chicago’s mayor and the University of Chicago’s hospital system, but she also looked good doing it: Vanity Fair hailed her among “10 of the World’s Best Dressed People.” Barack, on the other hand, has looked good doing just about everything he’s attempted, from becoming the first black president in the Harvard Law Review’s 104-year history to keynoting the 2004 Democratic Convention before winning a bid for the U.S. Senate.
And, of course, the quintessential power couple, Hillary and Bill Clinton. She’s a lawyer and he used to be, until his license was suspended over a matter involving that woman in a blue dress. Hil ’n’ Bill met at Yale Law School, where Hillary became a leading light in a class that was 90 percent male. She went to Washington after graduating in 1973 to join the House Judiciary Committee’s special impeachment inquiry staff during the height of the Watergate scandal. Coincidentally, if not ironically, she helped draft impeachment procedures that were later used against her husband.
The Clintons are hoping to follow in the footsteps of a famous Argentine couple. No, we’re not talking about Little Eva and Juan-boy, but recently elected President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner. They’re both lawyers, too.
Like Mike Nifong, but perhaps unfairly so, this Louisiana prosecutor of the so-called Jena Six inspired thousands of protesters to converge on LaSalle Parish when he decided to prosecute six black teenagers for their part in beating a white classmate unconscious. The attack occurred in December 2006 as racial tensions in the little Louisiana town soared over an incident in which three nooses were found hanging from a tree on school grounds.
In September, demonstrators led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton peaceably assembled, but accused authorities of unequally applying justice based on race. But in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Walters wrote that the white students who hung the nooses broke no law.
One defendant, Mychal Bell, now 17, had a juvenile rap sheet and was originally charged as an adult with attempted murder in the beating, though the victim was released from the hospital the same day as the attack. Bell was later convicted on a reduced charge of aggravated battery, but a state appellate court ruled he could not be tried as an adult on that charge. Bell was released on bond, then sentenced to 18 months on four prior juvenile convictions.
You may not know them by name, but we predict their work will quietly shape the legal news in 2008.
As regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Chicago office, John Hendrickson has been pursuing complaints against law firms that have fired or demoted their own partners because of their age.
In a landmark settlement last October, Sidley Austin agreed to pay $27.5 million to set aside an EEOC age discrimination lawsuit involving 32 former partners, most in their 50s and 60s, who were demoted to counselors in 1999. The EEOC alleged that for nearly 30 years, Sidley had a policy of requiring its partners to retire at age 65, while the firm denied it. It remains to be seen what effect the settlement will have on other law firms, many of which make no bones about putting partners out to pasture.
As director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mississippi Youth Justice Project, Bedi made it her business that nobody gets away with abusing children in juvenile jail. Toward that end, Bedi, 31, helped the law center sue the state of Mississippi last July on behalf of six teenage girls who claimed physical and sexual abuse at a state prison for girls.
In 2005 Bedi’s lobbying produced passage of legislation designed to prevent previous practices that allowed children to be hog-tied, locked in dark cells, occasionally sprayed with chemicals during mandatory exercise and forced to eat their own vomit.
Bedi recently became executive director of the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and we expect to hear more of her.
A hard-charging antitrust attorney formerly with McGuireWoods, Disner took on BAR/BRI and won. But when his firm settled the case with the nation’s No. 1 bar review provider for $49 million, Disner balked, and did so in open court, maintaining that the settlement should have been 10 times that amount.
Disner, 60, who had been a partner in the firm’s Los Angeles office, got the boot last May. (Somehow it just doesn’t look good when you go against your own firm in open court.) Disner acknowledges damaging the firm’s reputation, but says he was acting in the best interest of the 300,000 young lawyers who took the course between 1997 and 2006.
Aside from more money, Disner also wants to see the breakup of BAR/BRI, so that future lawyers will have a choice of study programs when reviewing for the bar.
Disner commands respect from his colleagues, who refer to him as a “bulldog trial lawyer” and an “antitrust guru.” But some also call him an “idiot” for putting his own job on the line.
When Moreno-Ocampo was elected the first prosecutor of the newly created International Criminal Court in 2003, he ran unopposed. It will probably be the only time he won’t find opposition on this job.
He honed his skills as a prosecutor in his native Argentina, where he went after the military officers responsible for the kidnap, torture and disappearance of his countrymen in what is known as Argentina’s “dirty war.” Not since the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II had any country tried any senior commanders for the mass killings of civilians.
Today he has his sights on human rights abuses in Africa: the Democratic Republic of Congo in the wake of the second Congo war; the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel army in Uganda known for abducting children and forcing them to become soldiers; the Darfur conflict in Sudan that has left untold dead from violence and disease since 2003; and, recently, the Central African Republic.
She’s a lawyer with a literary bent and has the scientific chops to rival any CSI investigator. A genetics expert of international renown, Andrews teaches at Chicago-Kent College of Law and serves as the director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology. In 1995, she chaired the federal advisory committee looking into the legal, ethical and social implications of the $3 billion Human Genome Project. And her influence in the legal ethics surrounding genetics doesn’t stop at the border.
No less than a dozen countries have asked for her advice on how to proceed with embryo stem-cell research, gene patents and DNA banking. In her spare time, she’s written numerous nonfiction books, three of which led to appearances on Oprah. Then there’s the fiction, Sequence and The Silent Assassin, which mixes mystery and science.
Glamour got it right when they included Andrews in its “Top 10 College Women” back when she was at Yale (where she graduated summa cum laude and later went to law school). She shares the distinction with Martha Stewart, actress JoBeth Williams and Cosmopolitan editor Kate White.
His resumé reads like a how-to on getting appointed to the federal bench or maybe even the Supreme Court: summa cum laude from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, a master’s in economics from Cambridge, magna cum laude from Harvard Law School (where he was also Supreme Court editor of the law review).
After joining the DOJ four years ago, Clement wasted little time in vaulting to the top, landing the job as the nation’s 43rd solicitor general. As deputy to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, he whipped around the country putting out legal fires. He’s argued scores of cases before the Supreme Court and oversaw the handling of high-stakes terrorism cases, including those of Jose Padilla and the second American Taliban, Yaser Esam Hamdi.
Even opponents grudgingly give Clement high marks. Federal public defender Frank Dunham Jr., who represented alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, had this to say of arguing against Clement: “He can make the unreasonable sound reasonable.”
Siobhan Morrissey is a lawyer and freelance writer in Miami.
Siobhan Morrissey is a lawyer and freelance writer in Miami.