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Veterans on the March As if Fredo didn’t have enough on his mind. Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Department of Veterans Affairs were sued for “shameful failures” in providing treatment and care for GIs after their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Outgoing VA Secretary Jim Nicholson is accused in the 73-page complaint, which is proposed for class-action status, of denying mental health treatment and disability pay to hundreds of thousands of veterans. Nicholson, who resigned his post earlier this month, is one of several named defendants, including Gonzales. Why the AG? Turns out, under federal law the Justice Department prohibits attorneys from being hired to represent veterans suing the government over disability pay. Under current regulations, that work is only available to lawyers on a pro bono basis. “The way the system is set up is scandalous,” says Melissa Kasnitz, legal counsel for Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit in Berkeley, Calif., which filed the suit. “This prohibition of allowing access to lawyers violates due process and is unconstitutional.” Most of the suit’s invective is directed at the VA. Kasnitz, along with attorneys at Morrison & Foerster, led by Walnut Creek, Calif.-based partner Gordon Erspamer, filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, saying the VA is “structurally unsuitable” for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, a common problem for soldiers after being in battle. Symptoms of the disorder, the complaint says, include intense anxiety, persistent nightmares, depression, uncontrollable anger, and difficulties coping with work, family, and social relationships. The complaint does not seek financial damages. Instead, it focuses on allowing veterans to file valid claims. Kasnitz says the agency is backlogged by more than 600,000 claims, many of which have been pending for years.
Lawyers Show Some Love Lawyers and law firms dropped another $13 million into the coffers of the 2008 presidential candidates’ campaigns during the second quarter, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Since the start of the year, the legal industry has contributed $27.5 million to the campaigns, 66 percent of which has gone to the three Democratic front-runners: former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Obama and Clinton have been particularly well-treated by the nation’s largest law firms, including Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis and New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Edwards continues to lead in overall lawyer contributions, with $6.5 million banked so far. But Clinton narrowed a first-quarter gap, ending this quarter with a total $6.3 million raised from lawyers. Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School, raised $5.5 million from the legal community, the third-largest amount among the presidential candidates. Clinton’s top contributor among all industries was DLA Piper, whose employees dug deep in the second quarter, ponying up a total of $284,620 for her campaign. The Center for Responsive Politics includes family members of those employees in its contribution calculations. One relatively new major law firm contributor to the Clinton campaign is Philadelphia-based Blank Rome, whose employees have given about $96,500 since late March. Employees of Obama’s former employer, Sidley Austin, stepped up their efforts as well, giving his campaign a total of $189,365, more than any other law firm.
1-800-GET-HOGAN Don’t like your legal representation? Here’s a different approach: Legal Times readers in New York may have recently heard radio spots encouraging listeners to call a toll-free number if they’ve been wronged by D.C.-based Hogan & Hartson. Legal Times called the number and got an answering machine, which mentions the firm and suggests leaving a short message if the caller has a grievance. No one called back. But Hogan’s chairman, J. Warren Gorrell Jr., was a little more responsive: “This is a fee dispute with a former client. They’re causing an unusual level of harassment to make their case. But if there were much of a case, I think they would have gone a different route.” Gorrell declined to name the client. Guess we’ll have to keep dialing.
One Leg at a Time The District’s most notorious item of clothing (at least since a certain blue dress left town) emerged from the closet once again last week. Guests at a fund-raiser for local dry cleaners Jin and Soo Chung were allowed to pose for photos with the pair of slacks that initiated a mind-numbing $54 million suit against the shop owners. The pants, allegedly those owned by D.C. Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson, disappeared from the Chungs’ dry cleaning establishment last year. Pearson was incensed enough to file his eight-figure claim. His unsuccessful suit generated outrage from around the world. It also generated around $100,000 in legal fees for the Chungs, not to mention giving the tort reform crowd their latest poster boy for lawsuit abuse. Two of the biggest players in that movement, the Institute for Legal Reform and the American Tort Reform Association, hosted the Chung fund-raiser. In a statement replete with images of “legal nightmares,” “frivolous lawsuits,” and the ever-popular “litigation lottery,” the organizations championed the Chungs and claimed to have raised $64,000 for their cause. Should the Chungs be successful in petitioning for reduced attorney fees, their lawyer, Christopher Manning, a partner at Manning & Sossman, has said the money raised will go to charity.
When East Meets West And in moves news, Steptoe & Johnson has picked up Patrick Norton as a partner in the firm’s international law group. Norton left O’Melveny & Myers, where he practiced in the firm’s China offices for seven years and also led the firm’s Beijing office. He specializes in counseling companies on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and hopes to help Steptoe develop its international arbitration practice. As to the reasons behind his move, Norton says, “I really do think Steptoe has an unusually good group of attorneys practicing in the whole international area, across the board.”
Keeping Score is Legal Times ‘ weekly column devoted to the legal business scene. Got a tip? Contact Senior Editor Douglas McCollam.

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