Federal public defenders in Washington got some bad news in May. After being told in April that they’d only have to take 15 furlough days under mandatory federal budget cuts — down from the 27 days they originally faced — they learned in early May that they’d have to take an additional week of unpaid leave.
According to a May 10 memorandum sent by Chief Judge William Traxler Jr., chairman of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the panel reconsidered its earlier decision after receiving new information about how defender offices were coping with the cuts, also known as sequestration. No office is expected to face more than 20 furlough days under the revised plan.
According to a spokesman for the federal judiciary, officials decided to redistribute money to give relief to offices coping with the cuts in ways besides furloughs, from cutting training to using up money for experts.
Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer said 20 days was better than 27 days, but the news was still a disappointment. "Obviously, it’s bad for morale. People are trying to get the work done while being on furlough, while their pay has been lowered," Kramer said. "It’s very difficult to take care of matters that deal with clients when you’re not in the office." — Zoe Tillman
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
An admiral soon will take the helm as the circuit executive and clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. On June 17, Retired Rear Admiral Daniel O’Toole, a Navy JAG for 28 years, steps into the position held by Jan Horbaly, a retired Army colonel and the court’s first circuit executive. Horbaly, who also is clerk of the court, announced his retirement this spring. Selected for flag rank in 2009, O’Toole was appointed as the first chief judge, Department of the Navy, responsible for all trial and appellate courts in the Navy and Marine Corps judicial system. Simultaneously with the 2009 appointment, the deputy secretary of Defense named him to the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, where he served as the acting chief judge. O’Toole also served in a series of operational posts, including USS John F. Kennedy and USS Theodore Roosevelt during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "We’ve got to transition to a new era under the new patent act with tremendous challenges in terms of workload," Chief Judge Randall Rader said. "I think Admiral O’Toole is going to be a great asset in this. He has been dealing with judiciary issues in the grandest sense." — Marcia Coyle
The revolving door turns once more. May 31 marked Daniel Suleiman’s last day at the U.S. Justice Department. Suleiman, who served as deputy chief of staff and counselor to assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer since 2010, is returning to Covington & Burling in July. He isn’t the first Covington attorney who served under Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to return to the law firm. In March, Breuer, who ran the Criminal Division at Main Justice, rejoined the firm as vice chairman. Covington partners James Garland and Steven Fagell both did stints at the department in high-level positions. "There is a long history at our firm and other D.C. firms of lawyers coming to the firm and going to the government and coming back," Garland said. Dan falls right into that tradition." Garland said the firm has deep roots in public service — whether it’s pro bono representation or working in the government. "It’s a lawyer’s duty to zealously advocate on behalf of their client," Garland said. "If you’re in the government, your client is the United States." No word yet when — or if — Holder will return to Covington. — Matthew Huisman
It’s probably a safe bet that Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit avidly reads legal blogs. Last week, in a decision in a case ­pitting Comcast Cable Communications LLC against the Federal Communications Commission, Kavanaugh name-dropped three popular blogs — SCOTUSblog, How Appealing and The Volokh Conspiracy. The FCC, Kavanaugh wrote in his concurring opinion — favoring the cable giant — can’t tell Comcast what programming to carry "any more than the government can tell Amazon or Politics and Prose or Barnes & Noble what books to sell." Or, in the case of the aforementioned blogs: "what legal briefs to feature." Comcast, represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Miguel Estrada, convinced the appeals court that the cable company didn’t discriminate against the Tennis Channel in refusing to provide broader distribution. — Mike Scarcella
FILL IT UP
After the U.S. Senate confirmed Sri Srinivasan for a long-vacant slot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, President Obama said the three remaining vacancies "must" be filled. Obama’s been slow to nominate anyone for the D.C. Circuit — Republicans blocked his first pick, Caitlin Halligan — but now there’s talk the president will make three nominations — all at once. The White House, however, did not confirm reports of such a plan. Lawyers in Washington said top contenders for the vacant posts include Patricia Millett of Akin, Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; David Frederick of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel; Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer who is now a Georgetown University Law Center professor; and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins in Washington. The potential picks all declined to comment. — Mike Scarcella
The District of Columbia recently slapped down a defamation lawsuit brought by the city’s former contracts chief. A D.C. Superior Court judge tossed the case on May 28 under the city’s law against SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation. Eric Payne sued over public comments made by a city official about Payne’s dismissal. Payne has a pending wrongful termination case in federal court. D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan said he was glad Judge Laura Cordero agreed with the District "that this meritless lawsuit deserved to be dismissed." Cordero found Payne couldn’t meet the standard for proving he was likely to succeed. Payne’s lawyer, Donald Temple, called the ruling "troublesome" and said he may appeal. — Zoe Tillman