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John Huerta is general counsel of the Smithsonian Institution. As legal adviser to the Board of Regents and the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, he is responsible for protecting the unique federal trust status of the 156-year-old institution, which serves as the National Museum of the United States and includes 16 museums, the National Zoo, and nine research institutes. What’s top of mind for you in your job right now? What’s in those folders piling up on your desk? Number one is an analysis of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Although the Smithsonian is not a publicly traded corporation — we are a quasi-public trust created by Congress in 1846 — I believe that we should hold ourselves to the highest standards of accountability. Along with the CFO and the secretary — the CEO — we may make recommendations to the Audit Committee of the Board of Regents about modifying their governance procedures. Second on the list is an analysis of the recently released reports on “Science at the Smithsonian” by the National Academy of Public Administration and National Academy of Science. While the reports gave our scientific research work high grades, I want to make sure that they got the legal status of the institution right, since I anticipate that the report will be widely distributed. Describe your nonlegal or administrative duties. How much time do you spend as a manager of lawyers and staff? What are the top issues and challenges you face in that area? About 50 percent of my time is spent managing lawyers and staff. The Smithsonian has suffered budget cuts across the board, and the Office of General Counsel has had its staff cut by three full-time attorneys and two full-time legal assistants, which amounts to a little less than a quarter of our staff. The challenge is to determine where to cut back on services and how to do it without doing any damage to our primary goal of protecting the trust status of the institution [and without damaging] the institution’s mission, the increase and diffusion of knowledge, or the goals of the secretary. Which law firms do you or your department regularly turn to in various substantive areas? Our No. 1 outside firm is Covington & Burling. Paul Berman, chief of the IP group, and his colleagues do a great job of assisting us in this area, which is vital to the intellectual and economic activities of the institution. Celia Roady of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius is our outside tax counsel and does a terrific job of keeping us out of trouble. Our outside entertainment counsel is Joel Behr of Behr and Abramson of Beverly Hills, Calif. What kind of work do you send out? What do you keep in-house? We do most of our work in-house, including IP and tax. The office, which includes 11 attorneys, provides counsel concerning the legal nature of the Smithsonian Institution and legal advice in federal administrative matters, business activities, collections management, constitutional law, gifts and estates, intellectual property, labor and employment matters, land use, tax, trust administration and representation in administrative proceedings and litigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office represents us in federal court. We turn to outside counsel on major transactional issues such as Internet developments or major tax issues. We turn to outside entertainment lawyers to assist us with the business aspects of the practice of entertainment law. We look to outside lawyers in areas we don’t practice, such as finance law, bond financing, major real estate acquisition, etc.

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