FOR DONALD VERRILLI, A COLLECTIVE EMBRACE

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. has had a challenging year or so in the spotlight, arguing at the U.S. Supreme Court in some of the most high-profile cases any SG has had to handle: the Affordable Care Act, immigration, affirmative action, voting rights and same-sex marriage, to name just some.

On April 25, veterans of the Supreme Court bar came together to show him some love and blunt the criticism that has been aimed at Verrilli. "There is no lawyer in our nation’s capital who is more revered and more respected than Donald Verrilli," enthused former acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger. Verrilli "argues without glibness, but with persistence and fidelity," Dellinger said. Former Solicitor General Paul Clement, Verrilli’s frequent adversary in the high court, praised him as a "brave and fearless advocate."

The collective embrace came during the annual reception sponsored by the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University Law Center — an event that has become known as the prom or the company picnic of the elite Supreme Court bar. — Tony Mauro

GOVERNMENT CREDIBILITY THREATENED

In Guantánamo Bay detainee proceedings, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of Washington federal district court hasn’t always had kind words for the government when it comes to lawyer access to prisoners at the naval center in Cuba. Last week, Lamberth issued his latest rebuke — this time, over restrictions on legal mail for detainees.

Mohamed al-Zarnouqi, the detainee at the center of the mail dispute, has been held at Guantánamo Bay for more than a decade. His lawyers, including Schiff Hardin counsel Brian Neff and Kelley Drye & Warren partner Beth Jacob, in February asked Lamberth to schedule a hearing to determine who should be held responsible for depriving al-Zarnouqi of legal mail.

Lamberth on May 6 decided against a hearing, saying he "will take the government at its word" that all "accidentally-held" mail has been delivered. Still, the judge said he is "concerned with the continuing erosion of counsel access at Guantanamo."

Last September, Lamberth lambasted the government over its attempt to change the rules of attorney access to detainees whose petitions for release were no longer pending. "If separation of powers means anything, it is that this country is not one ruled by executive fiat," he said. — Mike Scarcella

SLIMMING DOWN CRIMINAL CODE

Congress is again putting the U.S. Code on a diet to try to shed some of those extra criminal statutes. The House Judiciary Committee created a bipartisan task force on May 7 to slim down the number of ways Americans can commit crimes. The code has been gaining criminal statutes "at a rapid rate, about 500 a decade," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said. The code is up to 4,500 crimes. The leader of the task force, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), has in past years held hearings and introduced legislation on the issue with former attorneys general Dick Thornburgh, of counsel to K&L Gates, and Edwin Meese. Sensenbrenner’s new focus: regulatory crimes with mens rea implications, duplication of state codes and the resulting overcrowding of prisons. How did it happen? Inattention, he said. "There are a lot of regulatory bills that have passed here that haven’t gone through the Judiciary Committee and have wound up on the statute book with criminal penalties," Sensenbrenner said. "A lot of it was due to the fact the Judiciary Committee didn’t have time to do it." — Todd Ruger

ALWAYS IN THE NEWS

From defending embattled local politicos to, well, defending more embattled local politicos, Frederick Cooke Jr. of Washington’s Rubin, Winston, Diercks, Harris & Cooke is used to being in the spotlight. A lawsuit filed last week offered new insight into Cooke’s comfort with high-profile clients. He was part of a legal team that advised the late pop star Michael Jackson, according to a lawsuit filed by one of Cooke’s former clients, Raymone Bain. Bain, Jackson’s former publicist and something of a high-profile individual herself, is suing a law firm in Florida for alleged legal malpractice, claiming it botched her lawsuit against Jackson’s estate for millions in unpaid fees. In detailing work she did for Jackson, Bain said in her complaint that she recruited and secured Jackson’s approval to hire "experienced legal counsel," including Cooke, deceased veteran entertainment attorney Peter Lopez and others. Cooke later represented Bain in her case against Jackson’s estate after she parted ways with the lawyers she’s now suing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Cooke declined to comment. — Zoe Tillman

LEAVING JUSTICE

When Ignacia Moreno steps down as head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division on June 7, she’ll leave some big shoes to fill. Not only did division lawyers on her watch score a record-setting $29 billion in court orders and settlements, they had a good time doing so. For the past three years, the division has been ranked one as of best places to work in the entire federal government. Confirmed as head of the division in late 2009, Moreno’s top priority became going after those responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In February, Transocean Ltd. agreed to pay a $1 billion civil penalty — the largest environmental civil penalty ever. Related litigation is pending. "Under [Moreno's] leadership," said Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., "the division has achieved extraordinary results on behalf of the American people." — Jenna Greene

HONORS FOR THEIR WORK

Three Washington lawyers were honored on May 9 by the Council for Court Excellence for their work on behalf of the administration of justice. The 17th annual Justice Potter Stewart Award — named for the late U.S. Supreme Court justice — went to James Sandman, Jessica Rosenbaum and William Garber. Sandman is president of the Legal Services Corp.; he’s a former Arnold & Porter partner and was general counsel for the District of Columbia Public Schools. Rosenbaum is executive director of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission and previously served as a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and federal agencies. Garber has had a solo practice in Washington for more than six decades, regularly representing indigent criminal defendants. — Zoe Tillman

COVINGTON COMMODITIES

Covington & Burling has tapped a former U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission attorney to serve as the head of its commodities practice. Stephen Humenik joined the firm last week as of counsel. Before coming to Covington, Humenik was general counsel and chief regulatory officer at Eris Exchange LLC, a designated market for futures exchange. In an interview, Humenik said that Washington would play an increasingly important role in the commodities market, given the panel’s revamped role. "I think the sense over the past year is that the role of the CFTC has changed with the passage of Dodd-Frank," Humenik said. "It is critical to be here in Washington." He said that the firm plans to expand the practice. "The goal is to further enhance the practice that our current and perspective clients face when complying with the new laws and regulations," Humenik said. — Matthew Huisman