Williams & Connolly appellate practice chief Kannon Shanmugam has a simple goal: “That our reputation for appellate litigation matches our reputation for trial litigation.”
Considering the 250-lawyer firm has long been regarded as one of the nation’s pre-eminent litigation shops, it’s no modest ambition. But since Shanmugam joined the firm in 2008 from the Office of the Solicitor General (the first lawyer to join Williams & Connolly directly as a partner in 22 years), the firm has made its mark in the appellate arena.
Earlier this year, Shanmugam scored an 8-1 win before the U.S. Supreme Court in Smith v. Cain, representing Juan Smith, a Louisiana death-row inmate. The high court reversed a trial judge, concluding that prosecutors had suppressed favorable eyewitness statements. It was Shanmugam’s 11th argument before the Supreme Court, but his first undertaken pro bono. He called it “a tremendous experience,” saying, “When advocating in a death row case, you’re keenly aware that the stakes could not be higher.”
The firm’s appellate caseload tends to reflect its trial court practice, with criminal defense a major component along with products liability, securities litigation, intellectual property and antitrust.
For example, Shanmugam represented the former president and the defense minister of Bolivia before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in a closely watched Alien Tort Statute suit. The pair were being sued for their alleged role in a 2003 military crackdown in which at least 60 people died. Last summer, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a trial judge, holding that the plaintiffs had failed to plead valid claims.
Another high-profile case involved former Tennessee state Senator John Ford, who faced charges of making false statements and denial of honest services wire fraud. Partner Paul Mogin successfully argued before the Sixth Circuit that jurisdictional requirements of the federal false-statements statute had not been satisfied. The court overturned the conviction in April 2011.
Another victory came in October for longtime firm client Pfizer Inc. The plaintiffs in Rick v. Wyeth claimed that hormone replacement therapy drugs caused them to develop breast cancer, but their initial suit was tossed by a New York state trial court as time-barred. The plaintiffs tried again in Minnesota, which has a longer statute of limitations. Partner F. Lane Heard III convinced the Eighth Circuit to apply principles of claim preclusion and nix the bid. — Jenna Greene