Anti-DOMA law firm loses NRA, state of Vir­ginia as clients

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

More than a week af­ter a top Atlanta law firm dropped the con­tract to de­fend the fed­eral mar­riage statute un­der pres­sure from ho­mo­sex­ual groups, the legal and pub­lic re­la­tions fall­out shows no signs of eas­ing.

In ad­di­tion to los­ing one of its top lawyers in protest, King & Spald­ing has lost at least two high-pro­file clients, while its de­ci­sion to can­cel its con­tract with the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to de­fend the 1996 De­fense of Mar­riage Act (DOMA) has sparked a lively de­bate in the nation’s law schools and on legal blogs.

Stan­ford Law School pro­fes­sor Deb­o­rah L. Rhode wrote last week in the Na­tional Law Jour­nal that the law firm was “right to with­draw” from the case be­cause of its con­cerns, but oth­ers, in­clud­ing U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr., have sharply cr iti­cized the move.

Sep­a­rately, the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and the Com­mon­wealth of Vir­ginia have both dropped the large At­lantabased firm from their ros­ter of law firms, with both cit­ing the DOMA de­ci­sion.

While the firm deals with the fall­out, Paul D. Cle­ment, the re­spected for­mer U.S. so­lic­i­tor gen­eral who re­signed from King & Spald­ing af­ter the firm can­celed the con­tract, has agreed to a new $500,000 con­tract with the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee to con­tinue the DOMA case. Mr. Cle­ment will now help de­fend DOMA, which es­sen­tially re­jects ho­mo­sex­ual unions in the fed­eral def­i­ni­tion of mar­riage, at his new fir m, Ban­croft PLLC.

King & Spald­ing Chair­man Robert D. Hays Jr. said April 25 that his firm was drop­ping the DOMA con­tract ow­ing to “in­ad­e­quate” vet­ting of the case.

House Repub­li­can lead­ers sought legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for DOMA af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama and Mr. Holder an­nounced they would no longer de­fend the law, based on their be­lief it is un­con­sti­tu­tional.

In her ar­ti­cle in the Na­tional Law Jour­nal, Ms. Rhode wrote that while crim­i­nals need “vig­or­ous ad­vo­cacy,” the “moral cal­cu­lus is dif­fer­ent” in civil cases such as the DOMA lit­i­ga­tion.

“Ex­cept in rare cir­cum­stances, civil claimants have no right to coun­sel,” she said. “The no­tion that lawyers should check their con­science at the door” has led to pub­lic pol­icy fi­as­cos in such ar­eas as fi­nance and pub­lic health, she added.

Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken­neth T. Cuc­cinelli II told the firm that its ser vices were no longer needed for any state agency as long as he was in of­fice. Drop­ping the DOMA con­tract “was such an ob­se­quious act of weak­ness that I feel com­pelled to end your legal as­so­ci­a­tion with Vir­ginia, so there is no chance that one of my legal clients” will be sim­i­larly dis­carded, Mr. Cuc­cinelli wrote to King & Spald­ing of­fi­cial Joseph E. Lynch.

Ho­mo­sex­ual rights groups were not us­ing “McCarthyite” tac­tics in pres­sur­ing King & Spald­ing to with­draw, she added. “They were ex­er­cis­ing their own rights to ex­pres­sion” in the ser­vice of their al­lies, which is “pre­cisely” the “kind of pres­sure” that other groups have used to end dis­crim­i­na­tion.

But New York Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor Stephen Gillers echoed many in the legal world when he said King & Spald­ing had “caved in.”

King & Spald­ing can no longer be re­lied on as out­side coun­sel, NRA Gen­eral Coun­sel David Lehman wrote in a May 2 letter.

The NRA is “of­ten in­volved in con­tro­ver­sial is­sues,” Mr. Lehman wrote. Any­one hired as out­side coun­sel is ex­pected to “zeal­ously ad­vo­cate for our in­ter­ests and not aban­don the rep­re­sen­ta­tion due to pres­sure from those who may dis­agree with us.”

Days ear­lier, Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken­neth T. Cuc­cinelli II also told the firm that its ser­vices were no longer needed for any state agency as long as he was in of­fice.

Drop­ping the DOMA con­tract “was such an ob­se­quious act of weak­ness that I feel com­pelled to end your legal as­so­ci­a­tion with Vir­ginia, so there is no chance that one of my legal clients” will be sim­i­larly dis­carded, Mr. Cuc­cinelli wrote to King & Spald­ing of­fi­cial Joseph E. Lynch.

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