Eric Holder Jr., Covington & Burling
Eric Holder Jr., Covington & Burling (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)

SACRAMENTO—California legislative leaders on Wednesday said they have retained a team of Covington & Burling attorneys led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help fend off “potential challenges” from the incoming Trump administration.

The hire follows eight weeks of post-election promises by state Democrats to create a firewall against potential Republican attacks on California’s immigration, environmental and health care policies. It also offers a high-visibility platform for Covington, which has long sought a stronger presence on the West Coast.

“We have an obligation to defend the people who elected us and the policies and diversity that make California an example of what truly makes a nation great,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, and Senate leader Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said in a statement. “Mr. Holder and his team will serve as outside counsel to the Legislature, advising us in our efforts to resist any attempts to roll back the progress California has made.”

The state Senate and Assembly will split the cost of the $25,000-a-month, three-month contract with Covington, which caps the firm’s work at 40 hours per month. Others working with Holder will include three partners from the firm’s Los Angeles office: former California Congressman Howard Berman; white-collar attorney Daniel Shallman; and Aaron Lewis, who served as counsel to Holder in the U.S. Department of Justice from 2009 to 2011.

The engagement letter between Covington and the legislative leaders also lists a number of other firm specialists who may be called on: Stan Young, Tammy Albarran and David Zionts on immigration issues; Joan Kutcher; Caroline Brown and Layth Elhassani on health care; and Gary Guzy on environmental policy.

“Our role is the conventional one that the firm has played for many clients over many years in developing legal strategies and legal responses to actions of the federal government,” Covington chairman Timothy Hester said.  

A Covington spokesman said Holder was not available for an interview Wednesday. Holder said in a prepared statement he was “honored” to offer legal counsel to the state.

“I am confident that our expertise across a wide array of federal legal and regulatory issues will be a great resource to the Legislature,” Holder said.

As the legislature hired Covington, lawmakers were poised to confirm Democratic U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra as the state’s next attorney general, a position where he is expected to push back against Trump policies. In anticipation of a Jan. 10 confirmation hearing, a legislative committee this week asked Becerra for his written thoughts on immigration, civil rights, environmental protection and other issues where “Donald Trump has made multiple statements that directly contradict California law and policy.”

California Republicans questioned whether Democrats’ hiring of Covington demonstrated a lack of faith in Becerra and placed too much power in the hands of Holder, who often fought with the GOP during his tenure as U.S. attorney general.

“President-elect Trump hasn’t even been sworn into office and a high-powered former U.S. attorney general and his legal team of overpriced lawyers have already been hired to fight Trump’s policies?” Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, said in a press release. “That’s the job of our state attorney general and the team of smart, capable legislative lawyers already on the payroll. Instead, we’re putting a disgraced, unelected individual in charge of protecting California against possible federal overreach.”

Rendon spokesman Kevin Liao said the Covington contract will “complement and supplement the AG’s work.”

“They have expertise on federal issues that we at the state level just don’t have,” Liao said.

Hester had previously predicted that Covington, a home to former Obama administration officials and known for Washington-focused litigation efforts, could benefit from the results of the election.

“The focus isn’t on which political parties you’re from, it’s the strength of the lawyers,” Hester said in the week following the election of Trump, when asked about Holder and Covington’s other major hires from the Obama-era Justice Department. “We try to look at the long view for building the firm. We take a long view for our people, and we take a long view for our practices.”

Possibility of Conflicts

Covington’s contract includes a conflict waiver that says the firm could take positions for clients that are adverse to the California legislature. The firm noted that it represents “many different clients in many different industries,” including pharmaceuticals and energy.

The contract terms note that the firm “may be adverse to the Legislature and advocate positions before the Legislature on behalf of other clients in matters that are not substantially related to the matter we are now undertaking on your behalf.” Those client-matters, the firm said, could include litigation, intellectual property, legislative advocacy and transactions.

The state legislature regularly turns to outside counsel to defend litigation. It has also hired private attorneys on occasion for work in specialized areas, such as its 2002 investigation of the energy crisis.

The terms of Covington’s contract hardly portend a payday for the firm. But it does offer some high-profile positioning in the state, which Hester has said is key to the firm’s long-term strategy.

Covington’s first made a splash in California in 2008, when it added more than 50 intellectual property lawyers in Silicon Valley and San Diego as the law firm Heller Erhman dissolved.

Until recently, much of the most high profile California work focused around deals and the life sciences industry. For instance, Covington lawyers were among the outside counsel who helped tech billionaire Steve Ballmer buy the Los Angeles Clippers three years ago for a record $2 billion.

In 2015, Covington moved its San Diego office to Los Angeles while bolstering its ties to the tech community and in government-facing matters including litigation. The firm briefly registered in Sacramento as a lobbying shop in 2015, when Berman was listed as an advocate for Uber Technologies Inc. Covington dropped its registration in September.

Airbnb Inc. retained Holder in July to help craft an anti-discrimination policy in the wake of racism allegations that were leveled against some rental owners. Uber has also turned to Holder in its campaign to avoid mandated fingerprinting of its drivers.

SACRAMENTO—California legislative leaders on Wednesday said they have retained a team of Covington & Burling attorneys led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help fend off “potential challenges” from the incoming Trump administration.

The hire follows eight weeks of post-election promises by state Democrats to create a firewall against potential Republican attacks on California’s immigration, environmental and health care policies. It also offers a high-visibility platform for Covington, which has long sought a stronger presence on the West Coast.

“We have an obligation to defend the people who elected us and the policies and diversity that make California an example of what truly makes a nation great,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, and Senate leader Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said in a statement. “Mr. Holder and his team will serve as outside counsel to the Legislature, advising us in our efforts to resist any attempts to roll back the progress California has made.”

The state Senate and Assembly will split the cost of the $25,000-a-month, three-month contract with Covington, which caps the firm’s work at 40 hours per month. Others working with Holder will include three partners from the firm’s Los Angeles office: former California Congressman Howard Berman; white-collar attorney Daniel Shallman; and Aaron Lewis , who served as counsel to Holder in the U.S. Department of Justice from 2009 to 2011.

The engagement letter between Covington and the legislative leaders also lists a number of other firm specialists who may be called on: Stan Young, Tammy Albarran and David Zionts on immigration issues; Joan Kutcher; Caroline Brown and Layth Elhassani on health care; and Gary Guzy on environmental policy.

“Our role is the conventional one that the firm has played for many clients over many years in developing legal strategies and legal responses to actions of the federal government,” Covington chairman Timothy Hester said.  

A Covington spokesman said Holder was not available for an interview Wednesday. Holder said in a prepared statement he was “honored” to offer legal counsel to the state.

“I am confident that our expertise across a wide array of federal legal and regulatory issues will be a great resource to the Legislature,” Holder said.

As the legislature hired Covington, lawmakers were poised to confirm Democratic U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra as the state’s next attorney general, a position where he is expected to push back against Trump policies. In anticipation of a Jan. 10 confirmation hearing, a legislative committee this week asked Becerra for his written thoughts on immigration, civil rights, environmental protection and other issues where “Donald Trump has made multiple statements that directly contradict California law and policy.”

California Republicans questioned whether Democrats’ hiring of Covington demonstrated a lack of faith in Becerra and placed too much power in the hands of Holder, who often fought with the GOP during his tenure as U.S. attorney general.

“President-elect Trump hasn’t even been sworn into office and a high-powered former U.S. attorney general and his legal team of overpriced lawyers have already been hired to fight Trump’s policies?” Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, said in a press release. “That’s the job of our state attorney general and the team of smart, capable legislative lawyers already on the payroll. Instead, we’re putting a disgraced, unelected individual in charge of protecting California against possible federal overreach.”

Rendon spokesman Kevin Liao said the Covington contract will “complement and supplement the AG’s work.”

“They have expertise on federal issues that we at the state level just don’t have,” Liao said.

Hester had previously predicted that Covington, a home to former Obama administration officials and known for Washington-focused litigation efforts, could benefit from the results of the election.

“The focus isn’t on which political parties you’re from, it’s the strength of the lawyers,” Hester said in the week following the election of Trump, when asked about Holder and Covington’s other major hires from the Obama-era Justice Department. “We try to look at the long view for building the firm. We take a long view for our people, and we take a long view for our practices.”

Possibility of Conflicts

Covington’s contract includes a conflict waiver that says the firm could take positions for clients that are adverse to the California legislature. The firm noted that it represents “many different clients in many different industries,” including pharmaceuticals and energy.

The contract terms note that the firm “may be adverse to the Legislature and advocate positions before the Legislature on behalf of other clients in matters that are not substantially related to the matter we are now undertaking on your behalf.” Those client-matters, the firm said, could include litigation, intellectual property, legislative advocacy and transactions.

The state legislature regularly turns to outside counsel to defend litigation. It has also hired private attorneys on occasion for work in specialized areas, such as its 2002 investigation of the energy crisis.

The terms of Covington’s contract hardly portend a payday for the firm. But it does offer some high-profile positioning in the state, which Hester has said is key to the firm’s long-term strategy.

Covington’s first made a splash in California in 2008, when it added more than 50 intellectual property lawyers in Silicon Valley and San Diego as the law firm Heller Erhman dissolved.

Until recently, much of the most high profile California work focused around deals and the life sciences industry. For instance, Covington lawyers were among the outside counsel who helped tech billionaire Steve Ballmer buy the Los Angeles Clippers three years ago for a record $2 billion.

In 2015, Covington moved its San Diego office to Los Angeles while bolstering its ties to the tech community and in government-facing matters including litigation. The firm briefly registered in Sacramento as a lobbying shop in 2015, when Berman was listed as an advocate for Uber Technologies Inc. Covington dropped its registration in September.

Airbnb Inc. retained Holder in July to help craft an anti-discrimination policy in the wake of racism allegations that were leveled against some rental owners. Uber has also turned to Holder in its campaign to avoid mandated fingerprinting of its drivers.