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D.C. FIRMS HELP REBUILD AFGHAN LAW As the rebuilding of Iraq takes center stage, work to revise the legal system of Afghanistan is well underway. And a group of pro bono lawyers is at the forefront of one piece of that effort — a project aimed at bringing existing Afghan law up to international standards, as well as drafting new laws where none now exist. The project will touch on nearly two dozen areas, including arbitration, intellectual property, and commercial law. It’s drawing on the expertise of some 90 lawyers and scholars. In D.C., firms contributing pro bono time are Hogan & Hartson; Wiley Rein & Fielding; Beveridge & Diamond; Kalbian Hagerty; and the D.C. offices of Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Dechert. Kalbian Hagerty is a 14-lawyer firm that regularly represents clients in the Middle East. “This is not American lawyers dictating American law,” says Dechert associate Mariam Nawabi, the coordinating attorney for the Afghanistan Transitional Commercial Law Project. Hogan partner Robert Pender Jr., who is heading the commercial law team, also emphasizes the importance of molding legal advice to the local context of Afghanistan. “We can’t just air drop the U.S. civil code,” Pender says. The effort has not been without its hurdles, says Pender, noting that even tracking down Afghan law has been difficult because many legal documents were destroyed during years of Taliban rule. The project is being overseen by the American Bar Association’s Asia Law Initiative and the Center for International Management Education. A small nonprofit funded by private organizations, the center began the work last August in conjunction with the Afghan Embassy. The center’s president is John Russell Deane III, a partner at D.C.’s Tainum, Snowdon & Deane. Deane says organizers are planning a week-long trip to Kabul next month so that team leaders can meet with Afghan ministers. The commercial law aspect is only the first step in an initiative to revamp the entire Afghan legal system, he adds. The center, along with the ABA and Hogan & Hartson, has worked extensively on the legal systems of developing countries such as Estonia, China, and Pakistan. On the horizon is the prospect of working with Iraq. ABA President A.P. Carlton Jr. says he has set up an initiative that “stands ready” to provide assistance to the Iraqis. But Hogan partner Steven Robinson doesn’t see the efforts as comparable. Work in Afghanistan, he says, is starting from ground zero, whereas Iraq has “fairly decent” commercial laws in place and already has private company contracts and promised U.S. aid. “This [project] is fascinating enough and will take all of our intellectual talent for a while,” Robinson says. “Afghanistan is more urgent.” — Alicia Upano A HEALTHY DEFENSE TEAM Richard Scrushy, the ousted chairman and CEO of the scandal-tarred HealthSouth Corp., has tapped at least two D.C. lawyers to fend off charges of securities fraud and insider trading. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed the charges last month in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Ala., where HealthSouth is based. Now Thomas Sjoblom, a D.C. securities partner at Chadbourne & Parke and former SEC litigator, is representing Scrushy. The burgeoning Scrushy defense team also includes Jonathan Rose, a D.C. partner at Jones Day. Rose was a special assistant to President Richard Nixon and assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department. Neither Sjoblom nor Rose replied to requests for comment. Apparently such talent does not come cheap. Last week, Scrushy’s lawyers asked the judge overseeing his case to release $70 million of his assets, which have been frozen by the Feds, in order to cover the costs of his defense as well as taxes and personal expenses. — Otis Bilodeau ARENT’S HOMECOMING CELEBRATION The D.C. office of Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn has welcomed two of its former lawyers back to the fold. David Evans, 34, rejoined the firm’s antitrust practice as counsel and Samuel Huang, 38, as an intellectual property associate. The homecomings follow the loss of four senior attorneys earlier this month. Three additional associates will join Arent Fox’s D.C. office this week. The 260-lawyer firm also gained a senior associate in the litigation and dispute resolution department of its New York office last week, when former New York federal prosecutor, Silvia Serpe, 32, came on board. Arent Fox plans to double its New York office, which now counts 54 lawyers, says office manager and partner William McSherry Jr. — Lily Henning SECOND-GUESSING JUDGES An amendment to the Child Abduction and Prevention Act that limits federal judges’ discretion in sentencing passed last week and is expected to be signed into law by the president. While critics such as Chief Justice William Rehnquist and others were successful in persuading lawmakers to remove some of the amendment’s far-reaching language, a few controversial provisions made it into the final bill. For example, now, when an appellate court reviews a trial judge’s decision to impose a sentence less than that recommended by federal guidelines, the appeals judges must determine whether the lower court judge correctly applied the facts of the case in determining the sentence. The new law also requires federal trial courts to submit to the U.S. Sentencing Commission a report detailing the facts and reasoning behind every sentence imposed, a measure that will considerably increase courts’ administrative workload. The Judicial Conference of the United States does not comment on legislation that has passed. But on April 3, prior to its passage, the Conference wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee outlining its opposition to the measure. And Rehnquist sent a follow-up letter stating the Judicial Conference’s belief that de novo review of sentencing reductions, among other provisions, “would seriously impair the ability of courts to impose just and responsible sentences.” The three former chairs of the Sentencing Commission, as well as current commission members, also submitted letters opposing the amendment. Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) apparently wasn’t swayed. “There is no reason for appellate judges to give deference to the trial judge” on sentence reductions, Hatch said in a statement. — Siobhan Roth ROBERTS IN THE HOT SEAT — AGAIN Last week was a busy one on the judicial nominations front. At week’s end, Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) agreed to hold an unusual second hearing for John Roberts Jr., a Hogan & Hartson partner and nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, says Hatch spokesperson Margarita Tapia. No date has been set for that hearing. In a marathon Jan. 29 hearing, Roberts faced the committee alongside two controversial 6th Circuit nominees, Jeffrey Sutton and Deborah Cook. Democrats complained they had no effective chance to pose questions to Roberts. Roberts was approved in February by a 14-3 committee vote but has not been scheduled for floor consideration. Separately, Senate leaders agreed that Sutton, who was approved by Judiciary by an 11-8 margin, will get a floor vote on April 29, after the Senate’s two-week spring recess. And on April 10, Judiciary cleared two nominees for 15-year terms on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims: Susan Braden, 54, of counsel at the D.C. office of Baker & McKenzie, and Charles Lettow, 62, a partner at the D.C. office of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. Both were 12-1 votes, with only Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) dissenting. — Jonathan Groner SEC’S NOISEMAKER The Securities and Exchange Commission is one step closer to imposing a new rule on corporate lawyers that some say would force them to police their own clients. April 7 was the deadline for public comment on the SEC’s proposed “noisy withdrawal” requirement. With the comments in, the SEC can now put the rule up for a vote. An SEC spokesman says “there’s no time line” for a vote, although “a number of commissioners have indicated a high level of interest.” As proposed by the SEC last year, the withdrawal rule would compel a lawyer under certain circumstances to alert the SEC to a corporate client’s misconduct. But neither that proposal nor a more recent variation has won support among business lawyers. In their written comments, the American Bar Association, malpractice insurer the Attorneys’ Liability Assurance Society Inc., and a host of firms including Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Debevoise & Plimpton oppose both versions of the rule. — Otis Bilodeau NO DEATH IN TERROR CASE A federal judge ruled last week that the Justice Department could not seek the death penalty in the case of accused terrorist Zaid Safarini, the Jordanian national charged with the 1986 hijacking of a Pan American airliner in Pakistan that left 22 people dead, including two Americans. The Federal Bureau of Investigation brought Safarini to the United States for prosecution after he was released from a Pakistani prison shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. Safarini’s defense team asked Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to bar the government from seeking the death penalty because the alleged crimes were committed eight years before the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act became law. The government argued that the death penalty was available for Safarini when the hijacking took place. On April 10, Sullivan found that the 1994 death penalty law “contains no indication whatsoever that it was meant to apply to those death-eligible crimes committed prior to its 1994 enactment.” Channing Phillips of the U.S. Attorney’s Office says the government has not yet decided whether to appeal. Safarini’s attorneys could not be reached for comment. — Tom Schoenberg F*CKING LAW FIRMS Greedy Associates have rebelled. After administrators of the popular Web message boards imposed new rules cracking down on the use of profanity, vulgarity, and abusive language, a group of longtime users launched their own rival site, lawtalkers.com. The site went live March 28 and allows users to “curse to your heart’s content,” while sharing inside information about law firms and salaries, as well as general opinions on politics, sex, fashion, and the like. The split with Greedy Associates, which is owned by West Publishing, wasn’t so much because users couldn’t bear to discuss firms without swearing. It was more a protest over how the new policies were instituted. “To have things run a certain way for a long time, to have no discussion of concerns — which might well have been legitimate — and to simply start filtering out this or that word is, I think problematic,” e-mails Leagleaze — the moniker of the lawyer who put lawtalkers.com together. — Jenna Greene

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