Zia on the Spot

Not long ago, former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia got in touch with the folks at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman through a mutual friend, and now her troubles are being heard on Capitol Hill.

The firm recently registered to work on behalf of Zia, once counted among Forbes’ 100 most powerful women in the world, who is accused of tax evasion by the interim government currently holding power in Bangladesh.

Though Zia is a world away from Washington, Greg Laughlin, senior counsel at Pillsbury, wants her plight to garner attention in the halls of Congress. He asserts that the interim government has effectively, though not formally, placed Zia under house arrest: “She has to get permission to leave. A few weeks ago they restricted her from visiting the grave of her husband.”

In response to the often-violent clashes between the nation’s two major parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, (known as the BNP) and the Awami League, the interim government intervened in January with the goal of stabilizing Bangladesh’s notoriously corrupt political system. Though characterized as civilian, the emergency government is heavily backed by the military, and democratic elections have been on hold ever since the takeover.

In April, the government moved to exile Zia, the BNP’s leader, as well as her rival, Sheik Hasina, head of the Awami League and also a former prime minister. Both women remain in Bangladesh, but Hasina is now in custody on charges of extortion. Supporters of both women say charges against them are politically motivated.

According to Laughlin, there has been “a great deal of interest” in the human rights aspect of Zia’s story on the Hill, particularly by the Congressional Bangladeshi Caucus, led by Rep. Joseph Crowley (R-N.Y.).

A spokesman from the congressman’s office confirmed that he had met with representatives from Pillsbury but made pains to emphasize that although Crowley is concerned for the safety of all the people of Bangladesh, he wants to “stay above the partisanship” there.

— Marisa McQuilken



One Call, That’s All

Time was, when you were in a bind your first phone call was to your lawyer. These days, it might be to your PR rep. Now one law firm wants that same call to cover it all.

Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice has begun offering crisis communications services from its new Baltimore office. Earlier this year the firm hired former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. to head up the new branch. He brought along three members of his communications staff, including Henry Fawell, his former press secretary. Although Ehrlich has a law degree and is working with the government affairs and business development groups, none of the other three are lawyers or registered lobbyists.

The hiring touched off a round of speculation about what exactly the nonlawyers were up to at Womble. Last week, the Maryland Democratic Party accused Republican Ehrlich and the former staffers of being behind an anonymous web site attacking current Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. Fawell denied that anyone at the firm had any involvement with the site, terming the accusation “laughable.”

Pam Rothenberg, managing partner of the firm’s D.C. office, says the new PR capability is welcomed and valuable. “I have had personal experience where clients needed strategic communications help and crisis communications help, and it would have been lovely to have that in the office,” Rothenberg says.

“Public opinion matters,” Fawell adds. “Every law firm can say they’re by their client’s side in the courtroom. Womble is by its client’s side in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion.”

— Carrie Levine



This Land of Ours

New York’s Cayuga Indian Nation has launched a lobbying effort to sway the state’s congressional delegation. The objective: to move forward on a casino the tribe hopes to open in the state.

On June 4, Daniel French, who doubles as the attorney for the tribe, registered to lobby on gaming and land-into-trust issues on behalf of the tribe. He joins the tribe’s other Washington lobbyist, the Crane Group.

The Cayugas are pursuing two routes to their objective: One is a proposed settlement of tribal land claims with New York state, which would require both local and congressional approval. The other is the more traditional (and lengthy) path of applying for land to be placed in sovereign trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

he tribe prefers the first route for the sake of speed, says French. With congressional approval, the deal would also bar the rival Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma from building a casino anywhere in New York.

— Jeff Horwitz