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It was 1987 and Hogan & Hartson’s Mary Anne Sullivan was vetting colleagues to share a summer-house rental in Dewey Beach, Del. She spotted a likely candidate in a baby-faced new associate named John Roberts Jr., fresh from the White House counsel’s office. Roberts, then 32, was a natural fit. Much like the nine or so other lawyers who shared the house, he was unmarried, devoted to his career, and on the cusp of a private law practice that would make him wealthy. For many young lawyers, Dewey Beach was a great yet affordable spot to spend the weekend. Just a three-hour drive east of the District, the strip of Delaware shore is known for local pickup joints with names like the Rusty Rudder and the Bottle & Cork. “Dewey Beach is thought of as the not-high-class part of the shore,” Sullivan says. But Roberts tended to avoid the wilder side of the beach nightlife, say his fellow renters. The future Supreme Court nominee instead preferred to curl up on a beach chair with an Elmore Leonard paperback, hit a Saturday-night movie, and make it to church the next day. Roberts’ summer weekends at Dewey Beach were just a small part of his 13-year tenure at Hogan & Hartson — a career that made him millions, brought him into the orbit of Washington’s most powerful lawyers, and helped pave the way to a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Interviews with attorneys who knew Roberts paint a picture of a man not only widely hailed as a legal and intellectual marvel, but a man of more pedestrian traits as well: a minivan driver, a bad dancer, and a love-struck fortysomething. It was at the beach house that Roberts was introduced to another key figure: his future wife. By 1991, the Hogan beach-house group was losing members, and eventually joined with a group from another D.C. law firm, Shaw Pittman. Among the leaders of the Shaw Pittman group was Jane Sullivan, a communications lawyer who had studied in both the United States and Australia. (Jane and Mary Anne Sullivan are not related.) The first summer, Roberts and Jane Sullivan never went to the beach house during the same weekend. The two met in the second summer. “They both can tell you what the other was wearing that first weekend at the beach and what their first conversation was,” says Mary Anne Sullivan, who remains close to both. But the potential for romance was nipped when Jane Sullivan left the United States for a year and a half, on loan to an Australian law firm. Roberts would later joke to friends that “when he met his now wife, she was so impressed with him she moved to Australia for a year,” says H. Christopher Bartolomucci, an appellate partner at Hogan who worked under Roberts as an associate. The two reunited in 1993, at a dinner party celebrating Mary Anne Sullivan’s appointment to the Clinton administration as deputy general counsel for the Department of Energy (she would later become the department’s general counsel). By the next summer, those at the beach house began to notice little things: a bracelet Roberts had given Jane for Christmas began appearing on Jane’s wrist every weekend; Jane started forgoing her home-toasted English muffin for bacon and eggs with Roberts at Theo’s, a Dewey Beach greasy spoon; and the couple began taking dance lessons together at Glen Echo Park in Maryland — a pastime, says a friend, that “was not John’s natural activity.” Roberts also taught Jane how to play his favorite sport, golf. They were married in a Roman Catholic ceremony in 1996, at the Church of St. Patrick in the District. IMAGINARY JUSTICES Even before the Delaware beach house, Roberts was enjoying life as a high-paid associate at one of D.C.’s most influential law firms. Firm Chairman J. Warren Gorrell recruited Roberts from the Reagan White House in 1986 with the help of H.P. Goldfield, who had also served in the White House counsel’s office and would later join Hogan after leaving the Reagan administration. Often described by his colleagues as unassuming and “a regular guy” with a wry sense of humor, Roberts experienced a bit of a comedown in his physical surroundings when he moved to Hogan’s old offices on Connecticut Avenue. He was immediately assigned an office overlooking an alley that doubled as a garbage pickup. Roberts would joke that it was a step down from the White House, Gorrell recalls. Roberts wasn’t overlooking Hogan’s trash disposal for long. In May 1987, the firm moved to new offices on 13th Street Northwest, and Roberts made partner the next year. He returned to the government in 1989 as the Justice Department’s deputy solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush. Roberts rejoined the firm in 1993 and stayed for a decade before being appointed a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in 2003. Among Roberts’ mentors at the firm was appellate specialist E. Barrett Prettyman Jr., a former lawyer in the Kennedy administration and the first president of the D.C. Bar. Prettyman, Roberts, and Timothy Stanceu (now a judge on the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York) became lunchtime regulars at a round table in the corner of the firm’s cafeteria known as “the Fulbright table,” where former Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark. ), then-of counsel at the firm, would hold court. “The common theme for the Fulbright table was you’re not allowed to talk about anything you know a lot about,” Gorrell says. Those discussions often centered on politics. “[Roberts] always came across to me as conservative — a very thoughtful, strict constructionist who follows the Constitution,” says W. Michael House, a Hogan lobbyist. “[He's] in the mold of a Hogan-type attorney. We don’t have fire-eating conservatives, but [we] don’t have a whole lot of fire-eating liberals, either.” While at Hogan, Roberts became known as one of the top Supreme Court advocates in the city, going to bat for big corporate clients such as Toyota Motor Corp., Peabody Coal Co., and Digital Equipment Corp. Colleagues say he often logged 60-hour weeks. In preparing cases for the high court, Roberts would work on briefs with an associate and one other partner. Often, his No. 2 was David Leitch, a fellow Bush administration alum. He would then circulate the briefs among other attorneys in the firm before rehearsing the oral arguments in a moot court. “He was meticulous about preparation,” says Leitch, who was named general counsel of Ford Motor Co. earlier this spring. That attention to detail was particularly important in preparing arguments that could be interrupted at any point by one of the justices. “He would have a number of notecards on which he would write each point, and then shuffle them in different order so he could answer any point at any time in the argument,” says Gregory Garre, an appellate lawyer at Hogan. Bartolomucci, who served as an associate under Roberts, says, “It was always a little unnerving to work for him because he always expected A-plus work. “He’s not a screamer,” Bartolomucci adds. “If what you turn in isn’t what he wanted, he’ll tell you to do it again. But he’s not going to pound on the desk.” One former Hogan associate who took Roberts’ in-house class on appellate advocacy says Roberts shared other techniques. “[He said] he’d walk around the house practicing and stand in front of the mirror answering imaginary questions from justices,” says the former associate, who asked not to be named. “[Roberts] said, ‘My kids think it’s hilarious and fall down laughing.’ “ DIAPERS AND DIVOTS By the late 1990s, the Robertses, now both in their 40s, turned their attention from beach houses to starting a family. But like many couples who choose to adopt children, the Robertses were stymied by a number of roadblocks. “It was a very frustrating process for them,” says Shannen Coffin, a Steptoe & Johnson partner who’s worked with Roberts on appellate matters. In 2000, they adopted Josephine, now 5, and John, now 4. Friends say the children have cut into the time Roberts used to devote to his golf game, though they add he remains a member of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., a private club touted by Golf Digest as one of “America’s 100 Greatest Courses.” “He and Jane take golf very, very seriously,” says Hogan partner John Keeney Jr., who roomed with Roberts at the beach house. But Roberts’ ability is a matter of dispute. One firm attorney says Roberts regularly shoots in the low- to mid-80s for 18 holes, an excellent score for most amateurs. Hogan’s chairman remembers it differently. “He’s not great,” Gorrell says. “He works for a living.”
Legal Times congressional correspondent T.R. Goldman contributed to this report. Jason McLure can be reached at [email protected].

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