At the end of the landmark session of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. took time to announce retirements — not of justices, but of longtime court employees. Topping the list was Court Clerk William Suter, 75, who transformed the office into an efficient, lawyer-friendly operation.
Always ready to help nervous advocates — handing out cough drops and sewing kits for emergencies — Suter was the friendly face of the court to the legal profession. Formerly Judge Advocate General of the Army, Suter has joked that he was probably the only person who knew both Elvis Presley and Colin Powell. (Suter was in basic training with Presley.)
Roberts noted that in his 22 years as clerk, Suter heard more than 1,700 oral arguments. In a recent talk at South Texas College of Law, Suter said that former solicitors general Kenneth Starr, Seth Waxman, Theodore Olson and Paul Clement were among the best advocates he saw.
The lawyer's lectern is so close to the justices, Suter said, that "they could reach out and put a writ of 'habeas grabus' on you." — Tony Mauro
JESSE JACKSON JR. GARNERS SUPPORT
In the weeks leading to the July 3 sentencing of former Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., letters from supporters and detractors have flooded the chambers of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson (no relation). In February, the congressman pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds for personal expenses. A number of letters urged the judge to levy the maximum sentence, saying Jackson violated the public trust and shouldn't be treated differently because of his position. Prosecutors want a 48-month sentence.
Others, including ­several legal and political heavyweights, implored the judge to give weight to Jackson's history of public service. Vernon Jordan Jr., senior counsel to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, asked the judge to "please weigh his good works against his bad acts." Jackson's "conduct was inexcusable," Jordan wrote, "but his efforts on behalf of those less fortunate than himself should not be forgotten."
In another letter, Angela Davis, a professor at Ameri­can University Washington College of Law, wrote that her "heart dropped" when she learned of the charges, but she "never wavered in my support for him." Davis hopes that Jackson can return to his family, get treatment for mental health problems and "go back to serving his community in an appropriate and productive way." — Zoe Tillman
The lawyers and plaintiffs in the two same-sex marriage cases last week were the center of attention outside the U.S. Supreme Court. Noticeably absent, however, were two key attorneys: Bancroft partner Paul Clement and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Theodore Olson.
The two attorneys who squared off over the Defense of Marriage Act — Clement defending the 1996 law and Olson challenging it — were 137 miles away in a Philadelphia courtroom when the high court issued its decisions.
At the time, Clement and Olson were on opposite sides in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, represented by Olson, is fighting to join other states that permit sports betting. Clement, representing sports leagues, including the National Football League and Major League Baseball, argued against expanding federal law. If the Garden State loses in the Third Circuit, Christie says, he likely will take the dispute to the Supreme Court. Maybe then, Clement and Olson can face off against each other — again. — Matthew Huisman
FROM CONGRESS TO A LAW FIRM
Following his departure from Congress in January, former U.S. Representative Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) has landed at Clark Hill. Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, has joined the law firm as a senior director in its government and public affairs practice, the firm announced last week. He maintains offices in Washington and Phoenix. "I'm very excited to be a part of" Clark Hill, he said. The former congressman said he plans to help clients with financial services, tax policy, energy and intellectual property matters. Under federal law, Quayle must complete a one-year "cooling-off" period before he can return to Capitol Hill as a lobbyist. But he said he doesn't plan to lobby when his year is up in January 2014. Quayle joined the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011, serving only one term. His re-election bid last year was unsuccessful. — Andrew Ramonas
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on June 28 voted along party lines finding that Internal Revenue Service employee Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights during a committee hearing in May. Lerner's lawyer, William Taylor III, a Zuckerman Spaeder white-collar defense partner in Washington, says he's ready to return to Capitol Hill and explain his advice. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter on June 26 to the committee saying that Taylor already had cited a dozen appellate decisions backing up his advice to Lerner, who delivered an opening statement but declined to answer questions. Taylor "indicated he is willing and able to appear before the Committee to present the legal case on behalf of his client," Cummings wrote. — Todd Ruger
THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE
District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan has said he won't be on the ballot when the city switches to an elected attorney general in 2014. But that doesn't mean he lacks strong feelings about how the office should operate after he's gone.
During a panel discussion last week at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, Nathan pitched a series of changes to the attorney general's office, including expanded subpoena power and internal restructuring. Nathan sparred with his immediate predecessor, Peter Nickles, now a senior counsel to Covington & Burling, and former attorney general Robert Spagnoletti, a partner at Schertler & Onorato, over their visions for the office's future.
No one has publicly declared their candidacy to date. Nathan said he was soliciting several attorneys in private practice and government service to run and encouraged residents to reach out to potential candidates they considered a "lawyer's lawyer." — Zoe Tillman
THESE DOCUMENTS ARE PUBLIC
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, one of the country's most secretive courts, conducts business behind closed doors. There's no public docket to check case filings. Most of the evidence the court considers is classified. But court officials have set up a quasi-docket of sorts to give the public access to a select set of papers — filings from civil liberties groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and companies, including Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp., that are fighting over transparency. Represented by Covington & Burling partner James Garland, a former top Justice Department official, Microsoft is seeking permission to disclose aggregate statistics concerning orders the company has received from the court. The secrecy of the surveillance court became a national topic after The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers revealed leaked documents about the government's collection of information from social media, technology and phone companies. As advocacy groups and companies filed papers over transparency, the court set up a web site to host the filings in these disputes. Here it is: www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/courts/fisc/index.html. — Mike Scarcella