The #MeToo movement may have kicked off in Hollywood and New York City, but the gravitational pull of the Washington news-and-spin cycle—now ratcheted into overdrive by accusations against Brett Kavanaugh—has landed it squarely in the capital.
Of course, Washington has plenty of practice with sex scandals—and plenty of lawyers practiced in defending men and institutions caught up in them. The current era is no different, but while Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation is the obvious battleground, it isn’t the only one.
The controversies are generating work for legal veterans—and helping relative newcomers show off their skills.
As the number of accused celebrities and “shitty media men” grew last year, a suburban-Washington boutique law firm, Clare Locke, has routinely been identified as representing, defending or otherwise working with some of the most prominent alleged offenders.
Tom Clare and Libby Locke, a pair of former Kirkland & Ellis partners, formed their Northern Virginia firm in 2014. They quickly gained a reputation for winning defamation disputes and pre-empting or disproving stories from prominent publications. Among their recent accomplishments, the duo counts winning a multimillion-dollar verdict in a defamation case for University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo against Rolling Stone magazine in connection with false claims made in the article “A Rape on Campus.”
On the firm’s website, Locke touts her prowess at having “killed” stories and broadcasts by The New York Times, Vanity Fair and “The Dr. Oz Show,” and cites ongoing matters against Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric and CNN.
Clare Locke’s list of rumored clients facing #MeToo accusations is nearly too extensive to track. In recent months, the firm was reportedly hired by Jeff Fager, the fired executive producer of “60 Minutes;” Matt Lauer, the fired NBC personality; Glenn Thrush, the disciplined New York Times reporter; and Kimberly Guilfoyle, formerly of Fox News. Tom Clare told The National Law Journal his firm has represented Jeff Fager and would not comment on whether the firm was involved with Lauer, Thrush and others.
“I think our role is to make sure that these news outlets have accurate information to make informed decisions about the articles they’re looking into publishing,” Clare said in an interview. “Some don’t like that we hold them accountable.”
That’s putting it mildly. Reporters have described his firm’s tactics as “threatening” and “aggressive” and portrayed the lawyers at his firm as “media Assassins.” Still, Clare said he has nothing against the press as an institution and routinely receives laudatory remarks from reporters in private.
Everyone has the right to defend their reputation, Clare insists.
Kavanaugh, who has strongly denied allegations of sexual misconduct brought by Christine Blasey Ford, will see her claims tested at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing set for Thursday. Viewers at home may spot some new faces—at least for mainstream network television—on hand to coach the nominee and Ford and to assess their performance.
Kavanaugh enlisted Beth Wilkinson, a prominent D.C. trial attorney who left Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in 2016 to start her own firm, and Alexandra Walsh, another founding member of Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz, to help advise him through this process. Wilkinson previously represented former Democratic congressman Harold Ford Jr., who was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior when he was fired from Morgan Stanley.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has hired Rachel Mitchell, on leave from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix to question Kavanaugh and Ford on Thursday. Republican senators in the committee’s majority are planning to cede their time and questions to Mitchell.
Ford’s legal team, meanwhile, includes Debra Katz and Lisa Banks of Katz, Marshall & Banks, along with former federal prosecutor Michael Bromwich, whose desire to represent Ford expedited his exit from Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber. Ford has also reportedly turned to Ricki Seidman, a Democratic consultant who was involved in Anita Hill’s testimony against Justice Clarence Thomas, for advice on how to navigate the controversy.
Katz had earned the label “DC’s Leading #MeToo Lawyer” before the confirmation fight, and her work has only gotten more attention since her client’s accusations became public. Her previous clients include women who alleged abuse by Harvey Weinstein and by former New York attorney general Erich Schneiderman.
Another accuser is not scheduled to appear before the Senate, at least for now. Deborah Ramirez, who told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when he was a student at Yale University, is represented by Stanley Garnett, a Denver-based shareholder of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, and John Clune, a Colorado-based member of Hutchinson Black and Cook. (Kavanaugh has strenuously denied Ramirez’ account.) Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who shot to fame thanks to his representation of porn professional Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, produced yet more allegations of misconduct involving Kavanaugh on Wednesday.
The media and the judiciary aren’t the only institutions where sexual misconduct claims are keeping lawyers in demand. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, leader of the Catholic Church in Washington, privately retained Jones Day to help defend himself against an August 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report placing blame on him for failing to remove abusive priests from public ministry and concealing information during his tenure as bishop in Pittsburgh.
Wuerl quickly launched a public-relations-effort that backfired after the report’s release. The Archdiocese of Washington built a since-removed website, dubbed TheWuerlRecord.com, attempting to turn public perception in Wuerl’s favor last month. In recent weeks, Wuerl penned a letter indicating he is open to “stepping aside.”
Wuerl’s days as cardinal may be numbered, and Kavanaugh’s fate on the high court could be sealed one way or another by the end of the week, without either man ever facing their accusers in a courtroom. The next big #MeToo controversy in Washington is impossible to predict—the president himself is still grappling with harassment-related claims in a New York courtroom—but one thing’s for sure: The lawyers are standing by.