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The Season That Brings Out the Legal Profession's Warm, Giving Side

BY James V. Grimaldi
by James V. Grimaldi on 10/30/00.

In an election year that has already smashed political spending records yet again, the top industry fueling the campaigns may come as a surprise. No, it isn 't the pharmaceutical industry, or health care, or tobacco or computers. It isn 't insurers, or real estate or Wall Street securities firms.

The most politically generous industry is the legal profession. And the biggest donors in the most generous industry are right here in Washington. Would it surprise you to learn that the biggest lot of them work on K Street?

Okay, maybe not. But maybe the numbers will. Lawyers who work in the lobbyist-laden K Street Zip code 20036 made $ 1,237,937 in individual and soft-money donations during the 1999-2000 election cycle, according to an analysis of federal reports conducted for Hearsay by the Center for Responsive Politics. Second place goes to neighboring K Street Zip 20005, with $ 929,488.

And not all the reports are in. These are receipts reported through September. To political scientists, the findings are as expected.

"Washington lobbyists and lawyers--and just plain lawyers--are giving money to get access during the governing period," said American University Prof. James Thurber, a scholar of lobbying. If you haven't given money, he said, it is hard to approach lawmakers later, when you have issues to discuss.

The national numbers show numerous well-known trial lawyers in the mix--and some have been extraordinarily generous. A big issue for them: congressional efforts to limit citizens' right to sue. There are the Ness, Motley firm ($ 807,940), several Texas contingency-fee firms and several firms bolstered by fees from tobacco-industry settlements for the states.

And we would never leave out Peter G. Angelos, who is not only among the most generous lawyers but among the most giving in general. (Angelos is the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, but since he is the single biggest obstacle to Washington getting a baseball team, Hearsay deputizes him a Washingtonian for the purpose of today's discussion.) The Center for Responsive Politics ranks Angelos No. 6 of all personal contributors for his $ 666,000. Angelos, who opposes various tort reform initiatives, is partisan with his generosity: He gives only to Democrats.

But trial lawyers aren't driving all attorneys' donations. Yes, there is more lawyer money going to Democratic congressional candidates ($ 30.6 million) than Republicans ($ 17 million). But there is a surprise in the presidential numbers: George W. Bush leads Al Gore in lawyer money, 57 percent to 43 percent.

And Washington numbers reveal many corporate lobbyists among the lawyers. There are big Democrats too, such as C. Boyden Gray, the former White House counsel, at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. As chairman of Citizens for a Sound
Economy, Gray would be decidedly on the opposite side, strongly in favor of tort reform. Gray has given $ 225,000 this year to a number of Republicans and a variety of party and political-action committees, some with nice-sounding names such as Celebration 2000.

And while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would like you to think that the trial lawyers are outspending all other donors to Democrats, the presidential numbers don't necessarily reflect that. In fact, George W. Bush, no friend of trial lawyers, has received slightly more money from lawyers than Al Gore.

Many lawyers and firms play it both ways, of course, to make sure they have friends on both sides of the aisle. Other firms seem to be leaning toward one candidate or the other. Lawyers at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, sometimes thought of as Democratic because of name partner Robert Strauss, have given $ 52,000 to Bush and $ 33,000 to Gore. Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue also leans GOP, with $ 42,000 to Bush and $ 16,000 to Gore.

To all candidates and PACs, Akin, Gump lawyers have given $ 783,000, with $ 6 out of every $ 10 going to Republicans. That puts Joel Jankowsky, head of Akin's lobbying shop, a bit on the defensive. Jankowsky, who worked for Democratic House Speaker Carl Albert in the 1960s and personally has given $ 36,000 to Democrats, thinks of his firm as bipartisan. "The perception that we're on one side of the aisle or another is not right," he said.

Similarly, Bert Carp at Williams & Jensen has given most of his $ 53,500 to Democrats, while colleague J. Steven Hart has given all of his more than $ 36,000 in donations to Republicans.

Political scientists such as Thurber note this is a conscious strategy. "Those firms really know how to work both sides of the street," he said. Thurber notes that Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. of Patton Boggs is a well-known Democrat ($ 43,000 to D's this year) while others in the firm give to Republicans.

But Carp objects to the characterization. "I don't think you can find a correlation between lawyers and lobbyists and their personal giving and the degree of their influence," he said.

But there is one big D.C. counselor who doesn't want to be associated with those lobbyist types.

"I don't do lobbying work," said Loren W. Hershey, a former Justice Department attorney with offices in Washington and a resident of Virginia. Hershey has given more than $ 50,000 this year and plans to give about $ 150,000 before the election season is over, mostly to Virginia Democrats. While acknowledging he has considered running for Congress, he says his generosity is really public service. "I care about these candidates and their policies," said Hershey, who once worked on part of the original AT&T breakup. "This is my money, not corporate money. This is money I would otherwise give to charity."

The Judge on the Jury

How hard is it to escape jury service in D.C.? Just ask the Hon. Laurence H. Silberman, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That was hizzoner, the in the gray fedora, schlepping in and out of D.C. Superior Court for the past two weeks, part of a panel considering a malpractice case against a Friendship Heights plastic surgeon.

He told his fellow jurors to call him "Larry." It wasn't until it was over that Larry, who spent his spare time reading documents from the U.S. appeals court, told fellow jurors that he sits on the bench and has written critically about excessive litigation.

And what did this jury do? Awarded the plaintiff $ 300,000 for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering. Silberman would not discuss deliberations, but he said he planned to write to the appropriate authorities in the District and express his concerns about jury duty.

"I think it is improper for federal judges to be called on D.C. juries," said Silberman, who will go on part-time senior status as of Wednesday. "It certainly is true that no D.C. judge would be called on a federal jury. It is an interference with the judicial official of one jurisdiction on the part of another jurisdiction. If D.C. was a state, it would probably be unconstitutional."

Hey, could columnists get the same exemption?

Silberman's jury service coincided with the portrait-hanging ceremony for his former colleague, Abner Mikva. But even if Silberman hadn't been in jury selection at the time, Hearsay wonders whether he would have made it to the ceremony.

After all, Mikva and Silberman haven't exactly been bosom buddies. Indeed, during heated court deliberations more than a decade ago, the conservative Silberman sarcastically said to the liberal Mikva, "If you were 10 years younger, I would be tempted to punch you in the nose."

Silberman wasn't the only no-show.

These portrait-hanging ceremonies are very standard, must-attend events, and this one brought out Supreme Court justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as Attorney General Janet Reno and other dignitaries. But six judges on the D.C. Circuit couldn't make it, and it so happens that all six hooky-playing judges were appointed by GOP presidents.

So the only judge in attendance who had served with Mikva was Chief Judge Harry T. Edwards, a Democratic appointee.

Coincidence? Hearsay unsuccessfully attempted to ascertain the whereabouts of Silberman, Stephen F. Williams, A. Raymond Randolph and Douglas H. Ginsburg during the Oct. 16 ceremony. Someone in Karen LeCraft Henderson's chambers said she was in South Carolina. David B. Sentelle "wasn't available," said someone in his chambers. Pressed for details, the Sentelle spokesperson said: "That's the answer. He just had another engagement."

Those appellate judges are pretty darned busy. Wonder how Silberman found time for jury duty.


Atlanta-based Troutman Sanders has acquired Richmond-based Mays & Valentine. The combined firms will keep the 41-lawyer D.C. office run by Troutman Sanders before the merger and the 18-lawyer Tysons Corners office that Mays & Valentine had opened. . . . Hearsay would like to apologize to C. Boyden Gray. Our vast team of researchers must have hit the wrong user key. Of course, we know he has been at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering for as long as we can remember.