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David Walker had been a weapons officer on a nuclear submarine for about two years when he decided to go to law school. In search of a new line of work that would allow him to spend more time with his wife and two children, Walker nonetheless didn’t want to give up on his interest and background in technology. “I wanted to be able to use it,” he says. Now a clerk to Chief Judge Robert Mayer of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the 33-year-old Walker has found the perfect match: If judicial clerks at the other 12 federal circuits are largely defined — rightly or wrongly — by which elite law school they attended, what’s notable about Federal Circuit clerks is their wide range of technological or scientific expertise. Take, as another example, 33-year-old Jacqueline Wright. She was nearing the end of her doctoral studies in cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of Virginia when she decided to forgo a fellowship or an industry job for the world of patent law. Now she is a clerk for Federal Circuit Judge Randall Rader. A recent review of the backgrounds of 36 of the court’s 39 clerks found a very different group of clerks from those at the other circuits. (A handful of judges declined to cooperate with the study, and information on the remaining clerks could not be found elsewhere.) In a way, the results aren’t surprising: As the court that hears appeals in patent cases and many specialized lawsuits against the U.S. government, the Federal Circuit has a home and a need for technically minded lawyers. But the portrait of the court’s clerk pool shows some eye-opening detail: � The court has enough scientists to open its own research lab or engineering firm: 16 of the clerks surveyed have engineering degrees of one form or another — aeronautics, civil, chemical, computer science, electrical, mechanical, and systems. Another eight clerks have chemistry or biochemistry degrees. One is a mathematician who once did work for NASA. “I think it’s a plus to have a science background,” says Chief Judge Mayer. � Some clerks bring fairly exotic specialties to the court. One worked with electromagnetic fuel injection technology. One has extensive knowledge in astronautics. And another worked in an oncology research center. Several clerks taught college courses in chemistry and other disciplines. � Many Federal Circuit clerks are not fresh out of law school, but have prior work experience — not only in science or technical careers, but in the law. Indeed, 18 clerks have already worked in law firms. � For the record, the leading suppliers of clerks among law schools were Harvard, eight; Georgetown, five; and George Washington and Stanford, three each. What do Federal Circuit judges look for in evaluating clerkship applicants? Judge Randall Rader notes that scientific experience is not a prerequisite. “The science is not our work,” he says, pointing out that the scientific facts of a case are ruled upon in the lower court and not at issue before the Federal Circuit. Mayer, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, says he likes military experience, calling it “a maturing process.” Two of his clerks have such a background — one from West Point and the other, Walker, from the Naval Academy. Rader also looks for maturity, frequently hiring clerks who have professional experience either before or after law school. Along with Wright, who was an associate at D.C.-based IP firm Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner before working for Rader, his two other clerks have real-life work experience. Dina Grushpin taught chemistry at the University of Michigan and has worked for Procter & Gamble, Owens Corning, and Dow Chemical. And Jared Goff was an associate at the IP law firm Schmeiser, Olsen & Watts in Mesa, Ariz. Such experience benefits both the judges and the law firms that the clerks go to after their term at the court is up. Judge Jay Plager had never worked with patent law until he joined the Federal Circuit in 1989. Especially in his first years on the bench, he looked for clerks with patent law experience, Plager says. “My concern is to fill in gaps in my own background,” he explains. “They keep me from making basic errors.” John Steele, hiring partner at Silicon Valley-based Fenwick & West, says lawyers who clerk after a few years in private practice may get a more practical experience, one that is “not spent as an academic exercise.” Steele is high on the circuit as a training ground. Traditionally, he says, clerkships at the Federal Circuit have not commanded the same respect as clerkships at the 2nd Circuit, D.C. Circuit, and 9th Circuit. “But here in the Valley,” Steele notes, “that clerkship is as good as gold.” Lawyers who clerk at the Federal Circuit “bring back a command of federal intellectual property law” from the highest court in the land for all but the rare case taken by the Supreme Court, he adds. Two former Fenwick & West lawyers are currently clerking at the Federal Circuit, as are seven former Finnegan, Henderson lawyers. Judges say the clerks must completely disassociate themselves from their former firms and may not have standing job offers to return after the clerkship is over. Most of the current group of 39 clerks will put in one year of service and a few will stay for a second year. One clerk, George Blundall, is on permanent assignment to Judge Pauline Newman. Each of the 12 active judges has three clerks, with Senior Judges Daniel Friedman, Glenn Archer, and Edward Smith employing one apiece. Salaries range from about $42,000 for clerks right out of law school to $50,000 and up for clerks with work experience and postgraduate legal experience. James Monroe, hiring partner at Finnegan, Henderson and a former Federal Circuit clerk himself, wonders whether the surging salaries at law firms may decrease the number lawyers applying for Federal Circuit clerkships. With salaries starting at $125,000, Monroe says, “You’ll find out who really wants the [Federal Circuit] experience.” BAD FOR MORALE A three-judge Federal Circuit panel last month ruled that a federal employee could be fired for an off-duty adulterous relationship. The result didn’t come easily. One judge dissented strongly, and even the majority explained that, under different facts, such private off-duty conduct would not justify removal. The case involves Michael Brown, a morale program manager at the U.S. Marine base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and his relationship with the wife of a Marine major. Brown managed Camp Lejeune’s morale, welfare, and recreation department, a civilian job even though Brown himself was an officer in the Marine reserves. His duties included coordinating picnics, dinners, and other social events for Marines and their families. In 1997, Marine authorities fired Brown after they learned he had conducted an adulterous affair with the wife of a Marine major deployed overseas. Brown did not meet the major’s wife as a result of the morale program, according to the court record. They had known each other since 1992, when Brown and the major were stationed together in Quantico, Va. But an administrative judge upheld the firing, finding that Brown’s conduct was antithetical to his program’s mission and eroded the Marines’ trust in his job performance. By a 3-1 vote, the Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed the judge’s ruling last year. On appeal, Federal Circuit Judges William Bryson and Alvin Schall voted to uphold the lower holdings against Brown, but they had reservations about doing so. “To be sure,” Bryson wrote for both judges, “this case is a difficult one because the misconduct was private in nature and did not affect Mr. Brown’s official responsibilities in any direct and obvious way. “In many settings, such conduct would not be sufficient to justify removal from a civil service position.” But Bryson agreed with the administrative judge that the Marines’ “necessary trust and confidence was undermined” by the affair, thereby establishing a nexus between Brown’s conduct and his job performance. Judge Richard Linn dissented, arguing that the Marines failed to prove a connection between Brown’s personal indiscretion and his actual job performance. While not condoning adultery, Linn concluded, “the majority opinion risks being viewed as sanctioning the removal of an employee simply because of a difference in values between that employee and his superiors.” The opinion, Linn added, “grants virtually unbridled discretion to management.” Kevin Grile of the American Federation of Government Employees represented Brown. Grile said he and his client have not decided whether to appeal the ruling further. Marian Sullivan of the Department of Justice represented the government.

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