Christy Hardin SmithCommunity

Oh Noes! It’s Possible Ethics Woes!

Looks like some questions are being raised about Mark Gitenstein’s lobbying ties and the potential conflict of interest it might present in helping select federal judges at the Office of Legal Policy:

The likely nominee to head Justice’s Office of Legal Policy, Mark Gitenstein, worked as a lobbyist for the chamber between 2000 and 2008, helping his firm earn more than $6 million in fees, according to federal lobbying records. The business alliance has pushed the White House and Congress to appoint judges and enact legislation that would make it harder for plaintiffs to sue large corporations and collect large damage awards, raising concerns from some activists.

Gitenstein, a partner at the Mayer Brown law firm in Washington, was a longtime senior aide to Vice President Joe Biden. In recent years, he also has served as counsel to the chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which pushed for changes in federal litigation rules and adding business-friendly judges to state courts.

But that’s not the interesting part. It starts getting amusing when the defense mechanisms kick into gear:

If nominated, Gitenstein would require a waiver from the ethics rules. The White House has already acknowledged the need to exempt several high profile positions, including that of William Lynn III, recently a lobbyist for defense contractor Ratheon Corp., who was named to the No. 2 job at the Pentagon….

"If we are going to disqualify every lawyer from defending corporate clients, that is going to cut quite a swath through the bar association. Where he needs to recuse himself, Mark has said he will recuse himself, consistent with the Obama policy," said Connaughton, who is chief of staff to Biden’s replacement from Delaware, Sen. Ted Kaufman.

"I know people have objections to his clients," said one Justice Department official. "But if he ends up being nominated and is confirmed, he will not be involved in any of the areas on which he lobbied for two years.

Oh, no you didn’t.

It’s one thing as an attorney to represent the interests of your client on a particular legal matter in a court of law, where each side of a legal matter should have effective representation in order to properly litigate and reach a just result.  

But lobbying for a client? That’s not the same at all.

That requires you to actively try to wedge your client’s interests ahead of everyone else’s. And help them figure out a way to most effectively target the weak spots in government, throw their money toward receptive targets, glad-hand at The Palm and grease whatever skids need greasing.

Especially if what you are greasing for is tort reform in a town that’s run by special interests who litigate their own interests aggressively.

Riddle me this, Jeff Connaughton: how in the hell, in selecting potential candidates for federal judgeships, would Mark Gitenstein NOT be considering matters involving litigation and the resolution thereof?

Because you just said he wouldn’t be touching anything that he’d previously been involved in…well, tort reform is pretty much the whole civil shebang.  So how would he advise President Obama about judge candidates without looking at their history on litigation issues and theories about handling civil matters? Hmmmmm?

I can deal with a lot of condescending crapola, but you act as though we have no concept of legal practice out here in the real world. I know a skid greasing when I see one.

Golly, who could have possibly predicted this would be an issue?

Try thinking four or five steps ahead, and about what’s in the whole public’s best interest instead of just what you’d like for your pals. Gets you a helluva lot further in the long run.

(H/T to Dave Johnson on the LATimes article spot.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com