Trevor Potter never imagined he’d be giving a client legal advice in front of a television audience of millions. But in taking on Comedy Central funnyman Stephen Colbert, the former Federal Election Commission chairman has found himself doing just that. Potter, who leads the political-activity law practice at Washington’s Caplin & Drysdale, is representing Colbert in the comedian’s quest to form a “super PAC.” Potter said he first met Colbert when the show’s producers asked him to explain how political action committees work to Colbert and his staff. After Potter appeared on the show, he said he got a call from Colbert asking if he would serve as his personal lawyer as he pursued the creation of his own PAC. Colbert filed a request with the FEC on May 13. Potter said Colbert is an “enthusiastic” client, but added that it can be strange counseling Colbert in private and then discussing the same legal issues on the show with Colbert’s notoriously bombastic on-screen persona. “I’m not used to clients with multiple personalities, or at least not ones who admit they have multiple personalities,” he said. — Zoe Tillman
FOREIGN BRIBERY CASE DRAWS A BIG CROWD
Former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor Paul Pelletier, a senior lawyer in the fraud section who had a lead role in the case against Texas financier R. Allen Stanford, made his first court appearance last week as a new member of the white-collar defense bar. Earlier this month, Pelletier joined Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo as partner.
But his grand return to court on May 17 wasn’t to advocate for a client. Pelletier joined the crowd in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Richard Leon for the opening statements in a closely watched foreign bribery case involving the defense minister of Gabon. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Haray gave the opening for the feds, and Kobre & Kim partner Eric Bruce was first up for the defense.
More than 80 spectators — including defense lawyers for co-defendants who are not on trial — filled the rows, including Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner Michael Madigan, David Schertler of Schertler & Onorato and David Krakoff, a partner at BuckleySandler. Sitting one row up from Pelletier in court last week was his old boss, fraud section chief Denis McInerney. At Mintz, Pelletier will practice in the white-collar defense and Foreign Corrupt Practice Act groups, among others. Asked who had the best opening, Pelletier said: “I’ll let the jury decide.” — Mike Scarcella
With Memorial Day around the corner, Washington law offices are welcoming a new crop of summer associates. It’s one barometer of how bullish firms are feeling about the future, and a look at D.C.’s biggest law offices shows little rebound from the doldrums of 2010. Once again, Covington & Burling leads the pack, with 47 summer interns in its D.C. office, down from 54 last year. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr is bringing on 37 interns here — up 40% from last summer’s class of 26, but well below the 51 law students the firm hired in 2008. The biggest drop: Hogan Lovells, with 27 summers compared to 42 last year — and 76 in 2008. (The firm notes its incoming fall class in D.C. will be unusually large, with 59 newly minted lawyers). Arnold & Porter will have 25 summers, down two from 2010 (there were 67 in 2008), while Steptoe & Johnson LLP has 16, up one. Wiley Rein welcomes 15 summers, two more than last year, and Crowell & Moring has a class of 12, compared to 14 last year. Covington summer program co-chairman Derek Ludwin said his firm “has long believed in investing in its future by recruiting a strong summer-associate class. This year is no different.” — Jenna Greene
Two former prosecutors found themselves on the other side of the courtroom last week. Dorsey & Whitney partner Billy Martin stood by his client, former Prince George’s County, Md., executive Jack Johnson, as Johnson pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. Martin, a former prosecutor in Washington, and Johnson, a former prosecutor in Prince George’s County, have known each other for more than 20 years, Martin said. “We’ve had occasion to discuss lawyering and prosecution over the years,” Martin said, although he declined to say how much of a role Johnson played in crafting legal strategies in his own case. Johnson admitted to taking thousands of dollars in bribes from local developers before U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte on May 17, but Martin maintains that his client is “a good man…a family man.” In preparing for sentencing — a date has not been set — Martin said that he and the rest of Johnson’s legal team are looking for “a punishment that would be appropriate and allow him to move ahead with his life.” — Zoe Tillman
With the 2012 election season underway, a major new political consulting firm has been launched with a veteran election law expert on hand to steer it through any legal shoals. Joseph Sandler of Sandler, Reiff, Young & Lamb has signed on as general counsel to Democracy Partners, a 19-member firm whose Web site announces: “We’re in business to elect Democrats and to create issue campaigns that turn progressive principles into progressive policy.” Sandler, who specializes in nonprofit and political law, lobbying regulations and government ethics, served from 1993 to 1998 as in-house general counsel of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and general counsel to the DNC through his law firm until 2008. The new consulting firm has offices in eight cities, including Washington. “This is a group of people, veteran consultants and advocates in the progressive movement and Democratic Party, that I have worked with for many years,” Sandler said. “I’m excited they’ve come together.” — Marcia Coyle
The Federal Communications Commission last week called on Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati partner Renata Hesse to head the agency’s review of the AT&T/T-Mobile USA merger. The FCC is charged with evaluating whether the $39 billion deal, which was announced in March, is in the public interest. Hesse (no relation to Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, an archenemy of the combination) is a top technology antitrust lawyer who previously worked in the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “Renata’s wealth of legal expertise and experience is a welcome addition to the review team,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a news release. Hesse is not the FCC’s first hired gun to review a major deal. For the Comcast/NBC merger, the FCC tapped John Flynn, previously general counsel of ICO Global Communications. — Jenna Greene
In 2003, when Senate Democrats launched repeated filibusters of Miguel Estrada‘s nomination for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Estrada didn’t immediately give in. He hung on for months, serving as a rallying point for the Republican base before eventually withdrawing to stay at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. It doesn’t look as if Goodwin Liu and President Barack Obama have the appetite for anything similar. Republicans filibustered Liu’s bid for the 9th Circuit on May 19, as Liu fell eight votes short of 60. Afterward, Liu made no vow to continue on, and a White House spokesman declined to comment on what’s next. Susan Gluss, a spokeswoman for the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, where Liu is a professor, said she expects him to consult family and friends before making a decision. — David Ingram