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Fourteen years ago, when a Republican president nominated a judge to the federal trial court in the District of Columbia, he picked someone with an insider’s knowledge of one of the court’s regular customers: the U.S. government. Fast forward to the present. Last month, filling a seat on the same court, President George W. Bush tapped John Bates, the longtime head of the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. Bush borrowed the blueprint that President Ronald Reagan used in 1987 when he nominated Royce Lamberth, who had held the same job as Bates in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In fact, Bates is something of a Lamberth prot�g�. After working for Lamberth for seven years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, Bates succeeded Lamberth as the U.S. Attorney’s Civil Division chief. He held the high-pressure job for a decade before moving over to D.C.’s Miller & Chevalier as a litigation partner. The voluble Lamberth and the low-key Bates are temperamentally different. But the fact that they were both steeped in the arcane details of Freedom of Information exemptions, government immunity, and standing has many lawyers thinking Bates would be good for the bench. “Lamberth was a longtime litigation adversary of mine, and on the bench he has been eminently fair,” says civil rights lawyer Joseph Sellers of D.C.’s Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll. “If Bates turns out to be like Royce Lamberth, that would be fine with me. I would expect him to hold the government to high standards in litigation. After all, he can say, ‘Look, I know you can do better. I’ve been there.’ “ On June 20, President Bush announced his intention to nominate Bates and D.C. Superior Court Judge Reggie Walton for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The nomination of Walton, a former deputy drug czar, was widely expected, while the choice of Bates, 54, came as more of a surprise. Confirmation hearings have not yet been scheduled, but Bates is not expected to run into trouble in the Senate. “John has a perfect judicial temperament,” says Barbara Van Gelder, a partner at D.C.’s Wiley, Rein & Fielding who worked for Bates in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a decade. “In many ways, he’s the perfect government advocate. He’s not a self-promoter.” Van Gelder, herself a liberal Democrat, adds that Bates has never been known to let politics influence his lawyering. “I’m not even sure what his politics are,” she says. “You might call him politically gray.” Michael Martinez, a partner at D.C.’s Crowell & Moring who also worked for Bates in the government, says, “As chief of Civil, you have to excel at not having any bias at all. It’s good training for being an unbiased district court judge.” For 2-1/2 years, however, Bates found himself at the center of one of Washington’s most politically charged investigations: Kenneth Starr’s wide-ranging Whitewater probe of President Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and dozens of their business associates and subordinates. Bates was brought into the investigative team in early 1995 by then-Deputy Independent Counsel Mark Tuohey III, who knew him from D.C. legal circles. Tuohey says he needed a senior prosecutor with “considerable experience and good judgment” to coordinate Starr’s far-flung investigation. Bates came in on a detail from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, supervising matters such as the probe of Vincent Foster Jr.’s death and the inquiry into the disappearance and sudden resurfacing of Hillary Clinton’s law firm billing records. When Tuohey left in the fall of 1995, he and Starr agreed that Bates was Tuohey’s logical successor as deputy. Bates stayed in the position until August 1997, when he returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, five months before the Monica Lewinsky impeachment scandal broke. In Starr’s office he was replaced by Jackie Bennett Jr. Bates joined Miller & Chevalier on Jan. 1, 1998. One of Bates’ most difficult and sensitive assignments for Starr was to write a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court not to disturb a ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals forcing White House lawyers to turn over to the IC notes of conversations with Hillary Clinton. The high court denied certiorari in the case, and Starr got the notes. That effort, as well as other aspects of Bates’ role in the probe, might guarantee that he loses at least one vote in the Senate. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has thus far voted against two Bush Department of Justice appointees: Viet Dinh and Michael Chertoff, who were part of the Senate investigation of Whitewater. A spokeswoman for Clinton declines comment on Bates, noting that a Judiciary Committee hearing has not yet been held. Still, in the midst of this political maelstrom, Bates was able to maintain his reputation for nonpartisanship and fairness. “I support this nomination,” says David Kendall of D.C.’s Williams & Connolly, who as the Clintons’ private lawyer often clashed with Starr and denounced his tactics. “Yes, we often battled over things legally. But [Bates] was intelligent, straightforward, and ethical. He is low-key in a positive sense, not at all arrogant or abrasive.” Says Eric Holder Jr., who was the Clinton-appointed U.S. Attorney who helped arrange the long-term loan of Bates to the independent counsel’s office: “From a selfish point of view, I didn’t want to lose him. But it was good to know that there was a seasoned, reasonable guy going to that office. He went there without any ideological ax to grind — just to be a pro, to examine the evidence.” Holder, now a partner at D.C.’s Covington & Burling, supports Bates’ nomination, calling him “a model for the Bush judicial picks, a centrist, a moderate.” Bates declines comment on his nomination. But just a few months after he left the Starr team, Bates responded in an article in The Washington Post to the charge leveled by former White House lawyer Jane Sherburne that the independent counsel probe was a partisan witch hunt. The office, he said, “has been staffed … by professional prosecutors with enormous experience who have diligently and properly followed relevant leads in an attempt to discover the truth. These individuals are not partisans who are on a mission but rather professionals who take their jobs and obligations seriously.” Bates, a 1968 graduate of Wesleyan College, went into the U.S. Army upon graduation. His three-year stint included a year in Vietnam, where he rose to the rank of first lieutenant. Bates graduated from the University of Maryland Law School in 1976, clerked for a federal judge in Maryland, then joined D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson as an associate. In 1980, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he was to serve for 17 years. Bates’ wife, Carol Rhees, is on leave as a Steptoe partner and has been teaching American history at the private Maret School in Washington, D.C., and teaching estate and gift taxation at the Georgetown University Law Center. Phillip Mann, Miller & Chevalier’s chairman, says that as a government litigator and supervisor, Bates developed “a skill set that we wanted very badly. “We represent a great many people accused of fraud and abuse, particularly in the health care area,” Mann says, and Bates, as head of the 115-lawyer firm’s government contracts practice, has been very active in that industry. Bates has also been active in pro bono litigation at the firm. In April, he won a $2.4 million jury verdict in U.S. District Court in Maryland on behalf of a black printing company employee in Greenbelt, Md., who suffered racial discrimination. The case was brought to the firm by the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Those who know Bates say he’s equally comfortable at the negotiating table as he is in the courtroom. Martinez of Crowell & Moring, who was Bates’ deputy in the Civil Division between 1988 and 1993, says one of Bates’ biggest triumphs was a case in which protesters wanted to block the sidewalk in front of the White House. The government wanted to make sure tourists could see the national landmark but didn’t want to trample on free-speech rights. “John helped work out a compromise between competing interests,” Martinez recalls. “The demonstrators could walk back and forth. They just couldn’t park themselves there.”

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