GAY LAWYER GROUP SWORN IN AT SUPREME COURT
With oral arguments in same-sex marriage cases looming at the U.S. Supreme Court this spring, a notable milestone was marked last month: it was the first time, apparently, that a group of openly identified gay lawyers was sworn into the Supreme Court bar. It happened with little fanfare January 22, when 30 members of the National LGBT Bar Association were identified with the organization’s name by court clerk William Suter as he announced their admission.
“A lot of us wanted to applaud,” said association executive director D’Arcy Kemnitz. Gay lawyers have argued at the court and been admitted to the bar individually for years, but “we feel confident” that the ceremony marked the first time that a group whose name identified them as such was sworn in, she said. Paul Smith of Jenner & Block made the motion for admission. He said afterward that the ceremony sent the message that “here is a group of openly gay lawyers.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended a reception afterwards, as she did for other groups sworn in that day. The LGBT bar association is marking its 25th anniversary this year. Said Kemnitz, “We think we’ve arrived.” — Tony Mauro
FOUR YEARS IN, BREUER CALLS IT QUITS AT DOJ
The U.S. Justice Department will soon have a high-profile post available: the head of the Criminal Division. Lanny Breuer, who’s served as assistant attorney general since he was confirmed in April 2009, is calling it quits on March 1. Breuer’s one of the longest-serving leaders of the section, whose hundreds of attorneys investigate and litigate an array of issues — from cybercrime and financial fraud to public corruption and asset forfeiture.
Breuer has overseen some of the biggest cases in recent time — including the record-breaking criminal actions against BP PLC for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and HSBC Holdings PLC for violations of anti-money laundering controls. Critics assailed him over the dearth of charges against Wall Street executives, and he took some heat over the failure of the campaign-finance case against former Senator John Edwards.
“Sometimes, I get criticized for being too aggressive and sometimes I get criticized for not being aggressive enough,” Breuer said about the Edwards prosecution. “All I can do is call it the way I see it, and I think I got it about right.” Breuer, a former Covington & Burling white-collar defense partner in Washington, says he doesn’t know what he’ll end up doing now. “I really haven’t talked to anyone in any serious way,” he said. — Mike Scarcella
DRUG DEFENDANT GOES SOLO
For nearly 30 minutes, Antoine Jones had the floor of a Washington courtroom all to himself last week — his big chance to tell his side of the story. Jones, the D.C.-area nightclub owner who was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark privacy decision last year, is representing himself at trial on a drug conspiracy charge. Jones stressed one point during his remarks: Don’t trust government witnesses. In the middle of his opening, he shredded up a copy of the indictment, placing the pieces on a table next to his stand-by counsel, Washington solo Jeffrey O’Toole. O’Toole took over the case for A. Eduardo Balarezo, who had represented Jones at trial. Jones has regularly filed documents on his own, handwritten, challenging the evidence. Just last week, after his opening, he filed a motion to suppress “information and evidence” from two cellphones. Jones is up against two assistant U.S. attorneys, Darlene Soltys and Courtney Spivey Urschel. In her opening, Urschel told jurors they’ll get to hear from informants and they’ll get to review cell tower data — information prosecutors want to use to link Jones to a drug house in Maryland where the authorities found cash and cocaine. — Mike Scarcella
Two strikes, you’re out? That seemed to be the case last week for Wilson Sporting Goods Co., which lost its appeal of a $775,000 judgment awarded to an injured Major League Baseball umpire. The umpire, Edwin Hickox, sued Wilson after a foul ball struck his face during a Washington Nationals game and his face mask flipped off. A concussion and several broken bones later, Hickox took Wilson to D.C. Superior Court, claiming Wilson should be liable for the defective mask and accusing the company of failing to rigorously test the product before making it available. A jury sided with Hickox and ordered Wilson to pay $775,000 to Hickox and $25,000 to his wife. Wilson appealed, challenging the admission of expert testimony for Hickox at trial. On January 31, a three-judge appellate panel found that Wilson failed to make a home run argument, and that the testimony was admissible. Hickox’s lawyer, Patrick Regan of Washington’s Regan Zambri Long & Bertram, called the decision a “complete victory.” A lawyer for Wilson, as well as a Wilson representative, didn’t return a request for comment. — Zoe Tillman
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman could pull in as much as $12 million this year for helping Saudi Arabia’s civilian nuclear power authority, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act paperwork the firm filed with the U.S. Justice Department last month. The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy has paid Pillsbury at least $3.8 million since the firm signed an agreement with the agency in July 2011 to provide a range of legal services, DOJ filings show. The services include “ongoing training programs on many aspects of the law (including nuclear topics) under the auspices of ‘Pillsbury University’ ” and the creation of a “knowledge transfer platform” that would “produce over the next several years Saudi nationals who can assume the position of General Counsel for the Saudi nuclear program,” according to DOJ documents. Pillsbury’s Stephen Huttler and at least five other firm lawyers and a consultant are connected to the contract. Huttler didn’t respond to requests for a comment. — Andrew Ramonas
Two local bar associations recently announced new leadership. On January 24, the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia elected board member Fernando Rivero as president-elect, meaning he’ll take over from new president Jaime Areizaga-Soto a year from now. Rivero is an assistant attorney general for the city; Areizaga-Soto is the deputy director of Hispanic affairs for the Democratic National Committee. On January 30, the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association announced that it had also selected new leadership. Jonathan Puth of Webster Fredrickson Correia & Puth was elected president, and John Ates of the Ates Law Firm was elected president-elect. Puth, in a statement, said he wanted to focus on working with area courts to assist unrepresented litigants and lawyers who don’t usually handle employment matters. — Zoe Tillman
William Baer knows how to start a new job with a splash. The former Arnold & Porter partner, confirmed as head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division in late December, wasted no time bringing a case that’s bound to win the hearts and minds of the American people: protecting the price of beer. Just in time for the Super Bowl, Baer announced that DOJ filed suit to block Anheuser-Busch InBev S.A./N.V.’s $20 billion purchase of Grupo Modelo SAB de C.V. because it could lead to higher prices and fewer choices. The combined company would control almost half of the U.S. beer market, which Baer called “a bad deal for American consumers.” Anheuser owns Bud Light, the top-selling beer in the United States. — Jenna Greene