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Name and title: John E. Huerta, general counsel Age: 62 Megamuseum: Appointed general counsel of the Smithsonian Institution in 1995, Huerta became the top lawyer for the nation’s oldest, and the world’s largest, complex of scientific, historical and cultural museums. The Smithsonian was funded by a 1826 bequest from British scientist James Smithson, and was chartered by Congress as a national trust in 1846. The Smithsonian today operates 18 museums and galleries, including Washington’s National Museum of American History, National Air and Space Museum, National Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Hirshhorn Gallery. The Smithsonian also runs the National Zoo in Washington, and operates nine research centers in the United States and abroad. The 6,000-employee Smithsonian has an annual operating budget of about $1 billion, funded by congressional appropriations and citizen contributions. The Smithsonian’s board of regents is chaired by the chief justice of the United States, and includes the vice president, six members of Congress and several academic and business leaders. Chief Justice William Rehnquist runs a “tight meeting . . . serious, with some moments of jocularity,” said Huerta. Before his recent health problems, Rehnquist was a frequent visitor to Smithsonian museum exhibits. Law office: Huerta heads a nine-lawyer law department that counsels the Smithsonian on federal administrative law, gift and trust issues, real estate, employment matters and museum collection management. Because the Smithsonian is a federal entity, most of its outside legal work, and all of its defense litigation, is handled by the U.S. Department of Justice. However, Huerta occasionally calls on outside counsel for matters requiring special expertise. Celia Roady of the Washington office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius provides tax advice. Richard Newman of Arent Fox in D.C. helps out with real estate matters. Paul Berman of Washington’s Covington & Burling handles intellectual property issues on a pro bono basis. Employment law: Huerta may be the only general counsel in America to lobby Congress to extend federal employment law to cover his workplace. In 1998, at the urging of Huerta and the Smithsonian board, Congress closed a statutory loophole that exempted the Smithsonian from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Smithsonian wanted to be held to the same anti-discrimination standards as other federal employers, Huerta explained. Huerta said that the Smithsonian’s policy of promptly investigating all employment disputes, and settling meritorious matters, has kept its employment docket in check, with about 25 cases in litigation, and around 60 in the administrative process. The Smithsonian has lost only one employment case in federal district court during his GC tenure, said Huerta. Rounding out the Smithsonian’s “manageable” active litigation docket are a half dozen slip-and-fall and other tort claims, “one or two” contract and property cases and the “rare” intellectual property matter, said Huerta. Indian museum: The Smithsonian’s museums have a combined collection of 143 million objects, and are continually acquiring or borrowing new items to exhibit. The Smithsonian’s lawyers and curators work together to ensure that all acquisitions comply with applicable U.S. and foreign laws, including protections of cultural artifacts. “We document everything: gifts, loans, purchases. When we acquire a piece, it can’t have been illegally dug up,” said Huerta. The 1989 legislation creating the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004, requires the museum to “repatriate” human remains, funerary objects and illegally obtained artifacts to Native American tribes. At the same time that Huerta was helping to review the 800,000 items in the Museum of the American Indian, he was helping to fend off a lawsuit by the original architects of the new museum. In 1998, citing missed deadlines, the Smithsonian terminated its relationship with GBQC of Philadelphia and subcontracting architect Douglas Cardinal, a Canadian Blackfoot Indian. GBQC sued for breach of contract, and the Smithsonian countersued for construction-delay damages. The case settled in 1999 with GBQC agreeing to pay $450,000, said Huerta, who credits the favorable settlement to the “excellent job” performed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Armando Bonilla. Route to the top: Huerta was born in Portland, Ore., where his Mexican-American father worked in the shipyards during World War II. He graduated in 1965 from California State University in Los Angeles, where he was elected student body president in his senior year. He received his J.D. in 1968 from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, where he was an associate editor of the California Law Review. After law school, Huerta was awarded a two-year fellowship with the International Legal Center in Lima, Peru, where he helped develop new water law for the Peruvian government. He went on to a one-year stint as staff attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance, followed by two years as a public defender in San Diego. In 1973, he was hired as a law professor at the University of California, Davis, where he taught torts, remedies and Latin American law. In 1977, Huerta joined the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, managing litigation and reviewing police brutality cases. In 1980, he returned to California to litigate civil rights cases for the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Huerta went into private practice in 1985, co-founding Gronemeier Barker & Huerta of Pasadena, Calif., a 10-lawyer “boutique” civil litigation firm focusing on commercial, property and intellectual property matters. He returned to public interest law in 1990, joining the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group focusing on housing, land use and homeless rights litigation. He became the Smithsonian’s GC in 1995. Personal: In 2000, Huerta married Pamela Bryne, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon. He has one daughter from a prior marriage: Xana Huerta, 36, the chief administrator of a private company in Pasadena. His hobbies include appalachian banjo, tango, salsa, zydeco and swing dancing. Last book and movie: The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, and Taking Lives. - William C. Smith

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