Judicial Notice (01.14.23): Double Trouble
A clerk-hiring controversy, still more Biglaw layoffs, and other legal news from the week that was.
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Welcome to the first Judicial Notice news roundup of 2023. Did you miss me?
Zach and Harlan and I recently returned from a wonderful trip to the Philippines, where we hosted a party to celebrate my parents’ golden wedding anniversary, had a great time seeing family, and spent lots of time at the beach. Alas, when we got home, we faced an unfortunate situation involving water damage to our house. We’re grateful for homeowners insurance (in our case, Travelers, which has been reassuring and responsive throughout this ordeal).
On Wednesday night, I participated in my first event of the year, a fireside chat with Helen Wan, author of The Partner Track. Thanks to the New York Women’s Bar Association Foundation for sponsoring and to Boies Schiller Flexner for hosting. For folks who couldn’t join us in person, listen to our podcast conversation, in which we discuss The Partner Track’s journey from novel to hit Netflix show.
Now, on to the news—of which there’s a ton, since I’m going to try and capture all the news that has happened since December 17, when the last edition of Judicial Notice went out. So today’s newsletter is slightly longer than usual, but it’s like an issue of The Economist: once you’re done, you can congratulate yourself for being all caught up on everything. You’re welcome!
Lawyers of the Week: Robert Hur and Bob Bauer.
The big story this week was President Joe Biden’s alleged mishandling of classified documents. There are many differences between President Biden’s documents problem and former president Donald Trump’s documents problem, but Professor Jonathan Turley and others are likely correct in predicting that it’s now far less likely that Trump will be prosecuted for Mar-a-Lago—and even some Trump critics, like David Von Drehle of the Washington Post, think that would not be a bad thing.
Unsurprisingly, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate the Biden documents situation: veteran prosecutor turned Gibson Dunn partner Robert Hur, who served as U.S. Attorney for Maryland under Trump. According to the New York Times, the well-regarded Hur, a former clerk to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, “has two attributes that suit the task—years of prosecutorial experience, and a vivid understanding of the perils inherent in high-wire special counsel investigations.” Hur served as a top aide to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein when Rosenstein was overseeing the Russia investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Hur’s opposite number will be another high-powered lawyer who knows his way around high-stakes situations: Bob Bauer, former White House Counsel to President Barack Obama, hired by President Biden to represent him personally. As noted by Reuters, the “[g]ray-bearded and scholarly” Bauer, a former Perkins Coie partner and current NYU Law professor, is “a longtime Democratic problem-solver” and extremely well-connected in Democratic circles. Bauer is married to Anita Dunn, senior advisor to President Biden, and his hiring “shows Biden circling the wagons [and] relying on a trusted inner circle… as he weighs running for re-election in 2024.”
Other lawyers in the news:
New Jersey injury lawyer Kelly Conlon was ejected from Radio City Music Hall, where she was chaperoning her daughter’s Girl Scout troop to the famed Christmas Spectacular, after facial-recognition technology flagged her as working for a firm that has a pending lawsuit against Radio City’s owner, MSG Entertainment (even though Conlon has no personal involvement in the case). As reported by my former colleague Kashmir Hill for the New York Times, MSG Entertainment is now being sued for what its critics call “a dystopian, shocking act of repression.”
In another viral controversy, Jon Dileno, formerly a senior attorney at the Cleveland employment law firm of Zashin & Rich, lost his job after sending an insulting text message to a former colleague who left the firm for another job after returning from parental leave: “What you did—collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your ass, except to find time to interview for another job—says everything one needs to know about your character. Karma’s a bitch.” Indeed.
Professor Jeannie Suk Gersen wrote a probing and perceptive New Yorker profile of Jonathan Mitchell, the legal architect of Senate Bill 8, the Texas anti-abortion law that he intentionally crafted to evade pre-enforcement judicial review. It’s part of his larger project to reduce the power of the judiciary—which perhaps some on the left might now support.
In memoriam (in addition to Will Consovoy, whom I wrote about on Thursday):
Lincoln Almond, 86, former Republican governor of Rhode Island and longtime U.S. attorney in the state;
Edward Weidenfeld, 79, former general counsel to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign turned successful cannabis entrepreneur; and
Thomas Hughes, 97, former director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department during the Johnson and Kennedy Administrations.
May they rest in peace.
Judge of the Week: Justice Richard Bernstein.
In late November, I gave Judge of the Week honors to Kyra Harris Bolden, the first Black woman to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court. She surfaced in the news again this month—after one of her new colleagues tried to interfere with her law clerk hiring, generating widespread condemnation of that colleague.