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A weighty sense of anticipation hangs in the air as the senators filter into the vast chamber. Their faces are stony with the grave task set before them. Scandal surrounds the president of the United States, and the U.S. House of Representatives has called for his impeachment. There is rampant speculation that the president is carrying on a homosexual, adulterous affair with the attorney general. On top of that, the president also stands accused of firing U.S. attorneys and replacing them with political loyalists. All the while, a treasonous vice president waits hungrily in the wings for just the right moment to make his power grab. Now it is up to the senators to decide the fate of the beleaguered man in the executive office. The words of the House’s counsel break the tension: “America has never had a president like Edward Plantagenet Jr.” The audience erupts into laughter, because indeed, America has never had a President Plantagenet at all. This was not, after all, the scene of a real impeachment hearing, taking place in the real United States Senate. It was the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual mock trial, held last week at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, just steps from the White House grounds. This year, a panel of all-star judges, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, acted as senators hearing arguments at a make-believe impeachment trial inspired by Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century play Edward II. Chief Judge Paul Michel and Judges Alan Lourie and Pauline Newman of the Federal Circuit, as well as Associate Judge Stephen Glickman and Senior Judge Frank Schwelb of the D.C. Court of Appeals, joined Ginsburg as senators. Also on hand was Theodore Olson, former U.S. solicitor general and current partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, acting as counsel for President Plantagenet. U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben played counsel to the House of Representatives. With some generous tweaking from the executive council of the Lawyers Committee for the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Marlowe’s classic drama was reworked into a contemporary political scandal. The committee was established in 1991, and the mock trial has been the group’s annual tradition since 1994. Burton Fishman, co-chairman of the executive council and of counsel at Fortney & Scott, says the intersection of theater and the law is only natural. “Most lawyers come from — for want of a better term — a liberal arts background.” He adds that a lot of litigators he knows draw parallels between delivering arguments and performing on a stage. And based on their command of the audience, either Dreeben and Olson have quite a flair for the dramatic, or they are skillful at hiding their stage fright. COMPANIONS AND EXILE In Edward II, alternately referred to during the mock trial as “the Marlowe report” and “the yellow brief” (due to the color of its cover), Plantagenet has a suspiciously close relationship with his companion, Piers Gaveston. His father, King Edward I, had been so distraught by this that he exiled Gaveston to France. When the king died, however, Plantagenet assumed the throne and brought Gaveston back to England. In the play, Plantagenet bestows several impressive titles upon Gaveston, such as “Lord High Chamberlain.” For the purposes of the mock trial, though, Gaveston is given the much less sensational title of U.S. attorney general. That’s not to say, of course, that that title doesn’t grab its own share of headlines. Upset by Gaveston’s return, England’s nobles, led by Mortimer Jr., conspire to kill Gaveston and oust Plantagenet. For the mock trial, Mortimer becomes the power-hungry vice president of the United States, and instead of being ousted from his throne, Plantagenet is, of course, being impeached. Aside from allegations that Plantagenet and Gaveston were stealing away to Massachusetts to carry on their affair, the Lawyers Committee also conjured up the charge that the president had improperly fired U.S. attorneys through Gaveston. There’s no telling where they came up with that idea. The packed audience loved the jabs at modern-day politics and at the real-life Justice Department scandal. They laughed along knowingly with each clever quip from the counselors. At times, even Olson, Dreeben, and the panel of judges had trouble keeping straight faces. FIRING ATTORNEYS? During his arguments, Dreeben dramatically leveled the claims against Plantagenet. “He dismissed United States attorneys without cause, thereby suggesting the possibility that politics — politics — might be amiss in the Justice Department!” The jovial crowd laughed long and hard at this comment. One audience member even sarcastically said aloud, “Shut up!” Dreeben argued that Plantagenet had “squandered the riches of the nation on his lover” and let his infatuation with Gaveston prevent him from defending the nation against its enemies. Justice Ginsburg, acting as senator, though, took a more romantic approach. She cited other famous male pairs, such as Socrates and Alcibiades, and asked, “How can this relationship be at the core of anything that is wrong?” Despite the unorthodox antics of the mock trial, the Lawyers Committee did provide a legal foundation for the attorneys. One member of the committee’s executive council, Lloyd Randolph, an attorney with the Justice Department, masterminded the “Tenure for United States Attorneys Law” (TUSAL, pronounced “tussle”). The two-part statute states that the president must have “good cause,” as well as “the advice and consent of the Senate,” to remove U.S. attorneys from office. During his defense of Plantagenet, however, Olson focused less on the law and more on his argument that the impeachment had been spawned by Vice President Mortimer’s thirst for the presidency. Plantagenet was in experienced hands, as Olson had been private counsel to both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. “If you remove this president, who is being attacked by the vice president, who is guilty of murder and treason,” Olson told the senators, “you are making a grave mistake.” REMEMBER THE EARMARKS Olson implored the senators to proceed with caution in considering Dreeben’s argument that Plantagenet had wasted the nation’s wealth on Gaveston. “I don’t think squandering money is something that the United States Senate wants to remove someone for doing. Those earmarks are close to your heart.” Though it was delivered in all seriousness, the punch line had the desired effect on the audience, which chuckled. Despite their wisecracking, Dreeben and Olson clearly took the task seriously. Each submitted a detailed brief — Dreeben’s numbered 23 pages, Olson’s reached 34 pages. Olson, though, apparently didn’t realize he had to file a brief at all until he saw Dreeben’s work the week before the mock trial. His initial reaction, he jokingly told the audience, was that he hadn’t agreed “to do any goddamn brief,” but he then quickly transitioned into competition mode. “We decided, well, we’re not in this just for fun.” And as in any competition, there had to be a winner at the end of it all. After a short deliberation, the senators returned, and the eager audience was instantly silenced. Justice Ginsburg delivered the Senate’s unanimous decision to allow President Plantagenet to remain in office. “As in all things in life, one must consider: What is the alternative?” she earnestly asked the hushed crowd. The rest of the senators then offered their brief concurrences. Olson’s emphasis on the despicable vice president had apparently paid off. [Exeunt.] End scene.
Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected].

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