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Few lawyers in Washington, D.C., can boast conservative legal r�sum�s as powerful as the one quietly built up by David Leitch in nearly two decades of practice. Leitch’s selection last week as deputy White House counsel was doubtless aided by his strong ties to influential conservatives such as Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and Hogan & Hartson appellate specialist and D.C. Circuit judicial nominee John Roberts Jr. But people of both parties who know Leitch say the 42-year-old constitutional and regulatory lawyer is scrupulously nonideological in his approach to legal issues. Leitch, who was named Dec. 10 to replace Timothy Flanigan as deputy to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and is already on board, served more than a year as chief counsel at the Federal Aviation Administration. Although Leitch came in with little background in aviation law, he gets top reviews from aviation lawyers for his skills, his intelligence, and his nonpartisanship. “He listened to the staff attorneys in the office and engaged them in the process, in which they had often felt not plugged in,” says Thomas Zoeller, a Democratic lobbyist who was chief of staff to the FAA administrator until recently and worked closely with Leitch. “He came in with the reputation as a good, solid lawyer, and he lived up to that. What’s more, he had good connections with the administration, which proved to be a positive thing.” Says Sandy Murdock, a former FAA chief counsel who is now a partner at D.C.’s Shaw Pittman: “David is clearly a philosophical conservative, but nothing like that ever came into his decisions. He just looked at what is right, as far as the policy and legal aspects.” After Flanigan announced that he was leaving for a top in-house counsel post at Tyco International Ltd., Leitch, who was not available for comment for this article, quickly emerged as a leading candidate to replace him. Leitch had been assigned away from the FAA, where he supervised a staff of 300, to advise the office that is planning the new Department of Homeland Security. He was seen as likely to become that department’s first general counsel. Instead, President George W. Bush asked Leitch to join the White House counsel’s office, which advises on key issues such as the legal aspects of a possible war on Iraq, the treatment of captured terrorism suspects, and nominations to the federal courts. WELCOME TO WASHINGTON The move to the White House counsel’s office may represent the unexpected turn in a career that always seemed to have a very precise trajectory. Leitch graduated from Duke University summa cum laude and was first in the class of 1985 at the University of Virginia Law School. He clerked for Wilkinson on the 4th Circuit and for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He then joined Hogan & Hartson as an associate and learned at the feet of acclaimed litigator Roberts as part of the firm’s Supreme Court practice and appellate group. In the first Bush administration, Leitch worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, where he met Flanigan, who was his supervisor there for a time. Rising to deputy assistant attorney general, Leitch worked closely with then-Attorney General Barr. Leitch then returned to Hogan as a partner, handling a variety of regulatory appeals — international trade, health care, labor law, and others — and second-chairing Roberts’ Supreme Court cases. “David’s a great choice,” says Andrew McBride, a Wiley Rein & Fielding partner who worked with him at the OLC. “He has the full profile, very much like Flanigan. He would be qualified to be White House counsel if there were a departure.” There has been widespread speculation that Gonzales may get a Supreme Court nomination if a seat opens up in 2003, and the administration might well wish to have a deputy in place who could step up as his replacement. Barr says Leitch’s OLC experience will help him as deputy White House counsel, since both offices frequently opine on questions like the scope of the authority of the president or of a federal agency. “In addition to excellent judgment, Leitch has a good way with people,” says Barr. “And he is not a self-promoter.” Barr, now executive vice president and general counsel of Verizon Communications, says he had turned to Hogan & Hartson for corporate legal matters because of the combined skills of Leitch and Roberts. AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL Leitch’s work at the FAA in the post-Sept. 11 period and in the homeland security office will help him deal with the anti-terrorism and national security portfolio in the White House counsel’s office. “When the FAA position came along, it seemed to him like a really interesting thing to do,” says Judge Wilkinson, who has stayed close to Leitch over the years. “But he had no idea that the FAA would be the focus of so many challenges after 9/11. He still reminds me that I pushed him to take a job that kept him working till one or two in the morning sometimes.” Roberts says Leitch is a hard worker, but always tries to make time to attend his three children’s soccer games. Leitch’s only drawback, Roberts jokes, is that he “is a mediocre golfer, and that’s being generous.” A notable recent case that Leitch was involved in at Hogan was Rush Prudential HMO Inc. v. Moran, a closely watched health care matter. Last June, a narrowly divided Supreme Court rejected the claim by an HMO, which was Hogan’s client, that federal law pre-empted an Illinois statute requiring independent medical review of a denial of coverage. The ruling came down after Leitch joined the government, but in 2001 he was instrumental in writing the certiorari petition that convinced the Court to take the case. Leitch has also had his share of appellate cases in which he argued on behalf of conservative principles. In Marchwinski v. Howard, Leitch and Hogan colleague H. Christopher Bartolomucci won a 6th Circuit ruling in October upholding a Michigan law providing for drug testing of welfare recipients. They were representing the Washington Legal Foundation pro bono and wrote the brief in 2000, before they joined the government. Leitch will now be reunited with Bartolomucci, who joined the White House counsel’s office at the beginning of the Bush administration. In 1999, Leitch filed a brief on behalf of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, siding with a minor league baseball team that was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for offering admission discounts to people who brought church bulletins to the ballpark. To use state and local anti-discrimination laws against such discount programs, Leitch wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion article, “evinces hostility on the part of the state toward religion in general, and that is prohibited by the First Amendment.” Beyond his interest in weighty legal issues, those who know Leitch say he has a lively sense of humor. He can tease, and be teased back. Says Judge Wilkinson: “The day I hired him as a clerk, he walked into my office [at the Virginia law school] wearing shorts and a T-shirt and carrying a book bag. He walked in on an impulse, and I hired him on the spot. “Now I remind him of that whenever I see him in three-piece suits and in high offices.”

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