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FIRMS STILL ON THE HUNT FOR SEC LAWYERS The nation may be transfixed by the war in Iraq, but corporate bombshells continue to explode here in the United States. Just last week, a second official of the once high-flying HealthSouth Corp. pleaded guilty to charges stemming from alleged accounting fraud. And The Wall Street Journal reported that some of the biggest food companies in the United States may now be implicated in the alleged accounting trickery at the U.S. division of Ahold NV. For many law firms, business scandals continue to fuel client demand for advice on corporate governance and the array of new regulations companies face under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. That demand, in turn, has prompted many firms to watch eagerly for departing staffers from the Securities and Exchange Commission who can lend instant credibility to a “corporate governance practice group.” Alston & Bird and Howrey Simon Arnold & White are two firms that recently landed SEC insiders. Alston hired Dennis Garris, 36, the former chief of the agency’s office of mergers and acquisitions. Garrett joins the firm’s roughly 60-lawyer D.C. office as a partner. He fills in behind another SEC staffer that Alston picked up early last year, but soon lost. Michael McAlevey, a former deputy director of the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance, rejoined Alston & Bird as a D.C. partner in February 2002 only to sign on nine months later with the General Electric Co. as chief corporate and securities counsel. Evidently, major companies want to land SEC vets, too. Howrey, meanwhile, has hired as a D.C. partner Mark Radke, the one-time chief of staff for former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt. Radke, 48, had also worked with Pitt at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in the District. Neither Garrett nor Radke could be reached for comment. But firm leaders at Alston & Bird and Howrey are plainly aiming for more corporate governance work. “Clearly, we want to be identified as a firm that is knowledgeable and experienced in this area,” says Ben Johnson III, Alston’s Atlanta-based managing partner. “Certainly [the hiring of] Garrett is designed to further that end.” The fact that an Alston & Bird partner, R. Neal Batson, is now garnering publicity as the examiner investigating Enron’s collapse can’t hurt either. At Howrey, chairman Robert Ruyak stresses Radke’s “exceptional knowledge on issues of corporate responsibility.” Ruyak also notes that Radke will be an “addition to our already talented team . . . dealing with significant issues of corporate responsibility, whether they be civil, investigatory, or criminal in nature.” — Otis Bilodeau CAMPAIGN SEASON This year’s race for president-elect of the D.C. Bar features an unusual twist: A law firm partner is facing off against a government lawyer. Last week, the Bar announced that the candidates are John Cruden, 57, a career Department of Justice attorney who serves as deputy assistant attorney general in the Environment and Natural Resources Division, and John Keeney Jr., 51, a litigation partner at Hogan & Hartson. Since the D.C. Bar’s creation in 1972, nearly all its presidents have been lawyers in private practice. If Cruden wins, he will become the first government lawyer to serve as Bar president; in 1975, Charles Work, then a DOJ official, won the election but moved to a firm before his term began. The Bar’s nominating committee has generally chosen not to pit a private attorney against a government or public interest lawyer, presumably to keep an even playing field. (Law firms are considered better equipped to use office resources to promote their partners’ candidacies.) Cruden, a West Point graduate who was a ranger and member of the Special Forces in Vietnam and Germany before law school, supervises all of the DOJ’s civil environmental litigation. He says his priorities include outreach to the 30-odd voluntary bars and strengthening relationships with the judiciary. Keeney says his chief concerns include “the crisis in billable-hour quotas that is driving people out of the profession” and “the wake-up call of the Sarbanes-Oxley law regarding the public perception of lawyers’ ethics.” Keeney headed his firm’s pro bono department between 1989 and 1993. His candidacy may have some appeal to government lawyers since his father and informal campaign manager is John Keeney Sr., who has served as a DOJ lawyer for 53 years. The winner will serve as president-elect for a year and as Bar president in the 2004-05 term, succeeding Shirley Ann Higuchi of the American Psychological Association. — Jonathan Groner BETTER LATE THAN NEVER The Supreme Court‘s decision March 27 to expedite the release of the audiotapes of this week’s oral arguments in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases came as something of a surprise. But it turns out it was in response to a written request March 12 by C-SPAN Vice President Terry Murphy, who cited the cases’ “heightened public profile.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist consented, reactivating a procedure used for the Florida presidential election cases in December 2000. The affirmative action argument tapes will be made available to broadcasters soon after the arguments end around noon April 1. C-SPAN plans to air them on C-SPAN Radio and on its Web site as quickly as possible, with plans uncertain for a televised version. Why won’t the Court allow live, real-time broadcast? One theory is that the Court does not want to change its policy altogether, but was willing to speed up what it already does with its arguments — tapes are routinely sent to the National Archives for public use at the end of the term. “It’s not unlike the slow retreat of the glaciers,” says Bruce Collins, general counsel of C-SPAN, which has been more aggressive in seeking access to closed events recently. “C-SPAN’s persistent efforts to let the public witness its own Supreme Court in action seem to be paying off — even if the audiotape access to this case is only less of a delay than usual.” — Tony Mauro LACK OF DISCRETION Federal judges and members of the U.S. Sentencing Commission were left reeling last week after the passage March 27 of a controversial amendment in the House of Representatives that sharply limits the sentencing discretion of federal judges. The amendment, a last-minute addition to the Child Abduction and Prevention Act, which expands the Amber Alert system, would make it far more difficult for judges to impose lesser sentences than those recommended under federal guidelines. “The commission was not expecting these provisions,” says U.S. Sentencing Commission Staff Director Timothy McGrath. “We were taken aback.” The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), also requires judges to provide written sentencing reports to the commission, which would be required to turn over the reports to Congress upon request. This comes after a federal judge in Minnesota refused to turn over similar documents, raising the ire of House Republicans. Some sentencing experts predict separation-of-powers concerns will emerge if the amendment becomes law. “Congress is coming in and telling the judicial branch how to exercise its discretion,” says former commission lawyer Mark Allenbaugh, now an associate at D.C.’s Montedonico, Belcuore & Tazzara. — Vanessa Blum DEMS STAKE A CLAIM U.S. Court of Federal Claims nominee Victor Wolski drew surprisingly strong Democratic opposition at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last week. The panel approved Wolski’s nomination by an 11-5 vote, plus three Democrats voting merely “present.” Wolski, 40, is a partner at D.C.’s Cooper & Kirk and a former lawyer at the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation. Democrats say he lacks experience and is a right-wing ideologue. “Mr. Wolski is simply not qualified to sit on the Court of Federal Claims,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in a statement. A noncontroversial nominee to the same court, Mary Ellen Coster Williams, 49, received no negative votes, but Democrats cast seven votes of “present” to protest what they see as the administration’s refusal to consult them about claims court nominations. Williams is an administrative judge on a government contract appeals board. Texas judge Priscilla Owen’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit was approved by a 10-9 party-line vote, as expected. — Jonathan Groner BOWING OUT OF HONG KONG Frustrated by “the tremendous emphasis” on low-cost legal work in Hong Kong, Cravath, Swaine & Moore plans to shutter its 12-lawyer office there in the next two months, says presiding partner Robert Joffe. In so doing, Cravath follows Dewey Ballantine, which announced plans in January to pull out of Hong Kong by the end of this month. The decision to close the nine-year-old outpost was not based on the current slow economic climate, says Joffe. “If we thought this was just a business cycle issue, we’d be more inclined to stick it out,” he says. “The work in Asia just doesn’t command the kind of premiums we can get for our work elsewhere.” Dewey chairman Everett Jassy said his firm also had faced low returns from its seven-lawyer Hong Kong office. — Anthony Lin, New York Law Journal A SECOND CHANCE “In March of 1992, wealthy art collector and notorious philanderer Roger de la Burde died from a single gunshot wound to the head.” With those words, Judge Robert King of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit opened a March 26 opinion the likes of which the court hadn’t issued in years: the reversal of a murder conviction because potentially exculpatory information had been withheld at trial. Beverly Monroe, Burde’s former girlfriend, was convicted of first degree murder in November 1992 by a Powhatan County, Va., jury. Last spring, Judge Richard Williams of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia overturned her conviction. The state appealed his ruling, but the 4th Circuit three-judge panel backed Judge Williams, stating that “it is impossible to say that Beverly Monroe received a fair trial.” The circuit even went so far as to state that “Monroe was, by all accounts, a calm, gentle, and kind person.” Stephen Northup, a partner in the Richmond office of Troutman Sanders who argued the appeal for Monroe, says he was well aware of how rarely the 4th Circuit grants habeas relief. “We were very worried,” he says. “But by the same token, Judge Williams wrote a very powerful decision. That gave us hope.” Any appeal now will have to come from the county prosecutor, Robert Beasley Jr. Beasley was not in office during Monroe’s trial and says he is “taking a fresh look” at the case. — Siobhan Roth

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