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Joseph Tate exuded confidence as he fought to make his client’s case. Surveying the room, he paced energetically, sometimes employing a touch of sarcasm to make his point, at others injecting a note of humor when the mood turned too dark. His delivery flowed from aggressive to conversational and back again, a courtroom style for which he is well known among his peers. Tate’s impassioned plea was convincing, onlookers said, but it wasn’t real. There was no jury to sway, no judge on the bench, no defendant in the dock — only a collection of fellow lawyers attending a mock trial at an American Bar Association conference at the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia last week. “He has a manner about him that’s very appealing to a jury trial setting,” says David Antczak, a Philadelphia attorney with Drinker Biddle & Reath who listened intently as Tate defended his fictional client. The antitrust lawyer doesn’t know Tate personally but says he is well respected among members of the bar. His first impression of Tate: “He’s scrappy and good on his feet.”Another Philadelphia lawyer, Michael Boni of Kohn, Swift & Graf, says that Tate is one of the more prominent antitrust attorneys in that city and is known for his white-collar practice. Safe to say then that Tate’s reputation as a Philadelphia lawyer is secure. But some observers wonder if his act can play out of town on a bigger stage and before a tougher crowd, where Tate is currently starring in the most important case of his career. Will Tate’s skill and bravado be enough to win in Washington, a frequent graveyard for out-of-town hotshots, where his famous client awaits the outcome of an increasingly ominous grand jury investigation? Tate, a Democrat, represents I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and the putative focus of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The probe, which also has zeroed in on presidential aide Karl Rove, could wrap up this week, with the grand jury set to end Friday. Plame’s identity and covert status were revealed in a piece by syndicated columnist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003. The column sparked an uproar and led to an investigation into whether White House officials leaked Plame’s identity in retaliation for her husband Joseph Wilson’s criticism of the administration. Wilson had published an essay in The New York Times alleging intelligence on uranium purchases by Iraq was twisted to justify a U.S. invasion. CROSSING PATHS That Tate was in Philadelphia last week participating in a mock antitrust trial while speculation in Washington concerning Libby hit five alarms says as much about his low profile and reclusive nature as anything. Throughout his nearly 40-year career, Tate has, for the most part, managed to avoid the spotlight, even while representing high-profile clients such as former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and wealthy defense contractor James Guerin, who illegally sold arms to South Africa that ended up in the hands of Iraqi troops during the first Gulf War. “I’ve spent my career under the radar screen,” says Tate, adding, “I don’t want to sound like I’m spouting off.” During a recent interview, Tate reluctantly describes his career, which began at the U.S. Department of Justice in the 1960s. After four years as a prosecutor in the Antitrust Division, Tate left the Justice Department in 1970, in large part to avoid being promoted out of the courtroom. “I was offered a management job. It’s what we called a front-office job,” he says. “I just knew that going into a supervisory position in the front office … I was too young. I wanted to learn more skills as a trial lawyer.” That’s when Tate landed at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, the Philadelphia firm where a young associate named Lewis Libby was working after graduating from Columbia University’s School of Law in 1975. The two worked together until Libby left Schnader in 1981 to join the State Department and, later, the Department of Defense. Years later, the former colleagues’ paths crossed again. In 1991, Tate joined Dechert, the Philadelphia firm where he is still a partner specializing in antitrust work and, to a lesser degree, corporate white-collar cases. In 1995, after a two-year stint as a legal adviser for a House select committee on China, Libby also joined Dechert, as managing partner of its Washington office. BEYOND THE BELTWAY Opinions vary greatly on whether Libby made a wise choice picking an out-of-towner to handle such a Washington-centric investigation. The most common reaction among local lawyers when asked to comment on Tate is, “Who is he?” Although Tate is relatively unknown among Washington insiders, lawyers who know or have worked with him say he’s not only up to the task but is a superb choice to represent Libby. Melissa Maxman, a partner with Baker & Hostetler in Washington, practiced in Philadelphia for 15 years and says she knew Tate well through the antitrust bar and their shared interest in Democratic politics. Tate has made numerous contributions to Democratic candidates and to the party. Maxman says part of the reason she moved to Washington is that she feels Philadelphia lawyers are often unfairly overlooked on high-profile litigation even though she believes they’re just as qualified as their counterparts in Washington and New York. She says Libby’s choice to look outside of Washington to Tate for representation is a great compliment to the lawyer. “This is such an inside-the-Beltway prosecution, it doesn’t surprise me that [Libby] would want someone who’s not mixed up with the incestuous politics of D.C.,” Maxman says. Hiring a Democrat likely was no accident either, she says, but a shrewd move. “My hunch is they wanted to stay away from any insiders on the Republican side. If I was a defendant, that’s what I would do.” RETURN TO SENDER Another D.C. antitrust attorney who knows Tate professionally describes him as smart and, because of his background as a prosecutor, knowledgeable about how grand juries work. But he also says Tate’s bravado might at times cause him to step over some lines. “There’s a certain brash self-confidence in the way he presents his arguments,” says the lawyer, speaking on the condition that he not be named. “He is fairly out there and self-confident. You worry he might overstate his position a little bit.” What’s even more troubling in this case, he says, is the potentially damaging letter Libby sent to Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal her confidential source in the Plame matter. She has since publicly identified Libby as that source. A message left at Libby’s office last week was not returned. The letter, dated Sept. 15, urged Miller to testify so she could be freed from jail. But it went on to say, “As I’m sure will not be news to you, the public report of every other reporter’s testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame’s name or identity with me.” Though it’s carefully crafted to reference public reports, that passage has nevertheless been cast as a possible attempt by Libby to influence Miller’s testimony. In a personal account of her involvement in the Plame affair published in the Times last week, Miller wrote: “This portion of the letter surprised me because it might be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby to suggest that I, too, would say we had not discussed Ms. Plame’s identity. Yet my notes suggested that we had discussed her job.” Some view the letter as a major screw-up in Libby’s case — amateur hour — by an attorney better known for antitrust work than for defending prominent white-collar cases. (In contrast, Miller is represented by Robert Bennett, while Rove turned to Robert Luskin, both D.C. fixtures.) “It was a mistake if it wasn’t reviewed. It was a mistake if it was reviewed and allowed,” says the source. “Joe Tate is more than experienced enough to make that judgment. It certainly looks like a mistake.” And Floyd Abrams, who initially represented the Times and Miller in the leak probe, says of the letter: “There’s no doubt what Libby said is, �You can testify, but only if it’s favorable to me.’ It could be innocent only because it reads to me so self-incriminating by Libby that I just have personal doubts that a guilty person would send such a foolhardy letter.” Another line in Libby’s letter indicates that Tate did in fact review the correspondence before it was sent.After an initial interview, Tate did not respond to follow-up requests to talk about his representation of Libby. OUTSIDE THE TRIBE In recent years, calling on out-of-town lawyers for representation in Washington scandals has led to mishaps and blunders. The most infamous example, perhaps, is Monica Lewinsky’s decision to hire William Ginsburg, a Beverly Hills medical malpractice lawyer, to represent her in the controversy involving President Bill Clinton. Ginsburg was savaged by Washington lawyers for failing to secure immunity for his client and for spending too much time in the limelight. The former White House intern eventually fired Ginsburg, a longtime family friend, and hired experienced Washington attorneys Plato Cacheris and Jacob Stein. But in Tate’s case, despite talk of a few possible gaffes, no one has suggested he is incapable of representing Libby effectively. Richard Favretto, a former colleague of Tate’s at the Justice Department and now a partner with Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw in Washington, says that Tate has handled grand jury investigations in the past. But this is, without a doubt, the most high-stakes grand jury investigation of Tate’s career. Favretto, also a veteran antitrust lawyer, says it’s no surprise Libby turned to a former colleague for representation, someone he knows and trusts. Favretto agrees that bringing in a lawyer from outside Washington’s “insider community” isn’t a bad idea. “I think sometimes skilled defense lawyers from outside of Washington can bring insights and approaches to a matter like this that frequently folks within the Beltway don’t think in terms of,” he says. “Sometimes conventional approaches aren’t the right approaches in a given situation.”

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