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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 29, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 17
DOMA defense drama - Law firm backs out under pressure, partner quits
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DOMA defense drama - Law firm backs out under pressure, partner quits

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The law firm of King & Spalding - hired by House Speaker John Boehner to defend DOMA in court - announced on April 25 that it would drop the case.

King & Spalding Chairman Robert D. Hays, Jr. said in a statement through his spokesman, Les Zuke, that the decision to accept the contract to defend DOMA was a mistake.

'Today the firm filed a motion to withdraw from its engagement to represent the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives on the constitutional issues regarding Section III of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act,' Hays' statement said. 'Last week we worked diligently through the process required for withdrawal.

'In reviewing this assignment further, I determined that the process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate. Ultimately I am responsible for any mistakes that occurred and apologize for the challenges this may have created.'

Hays did not offer reasons for the decision to withdraw, but the firm faced protests from key clients and pickets at its Atlanta office.

King & Spalding partner Paul Clement - who was to lead the DOMA defense - promptly resigned from the firm.

'I resign out of the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client's legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters,' Clement said in a statement. 'Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do. ...

'I recognized from the outset that this statute implicates very sensitive issues that prompt strong views on both sides. But having undertaken the representation, I believe there is no honorable course for me but to complete it.'

Clement immediately joined the firm of Bancroft PLLC, led by former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, who served under President George W. Bush.

Bancroft PLLC will now handle the DOMA for Boehner, with Clement still leading the effort.

The following day, HRC Communications Director Fred Sainz confirmed that his group had called King & Spalding clients about the firm's involvement with the DOMA case.

Sainz said his group did not ask any of the firm's clients to drop the firm in retaliation for taking the case, as was reported in some media venues, but it had informed the firm's clients that taking the case was out of sync with King & Spalding's commitment to diversity, which it proudly advertises on its website.

'King & Spalding's clients are listed on its website, so we did what you would expect us to do,' Sainz told Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent.

'We are an advocacy firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of Gays and Lesbians. It is incumbent on us to launch a full-throated educational campaign so firms know that these kinds of engagements will reflect on the way your clients and law school recruits think of your firm.'

'We did all of this, and we're proud to have done it,' added Sainz.

While Sainz declined to say exactly which King & Spalding clients HRC contacted, some reports indicate Coca Cola was the client that persuaded the firm to drop DOMA.

LGBT rights advocates greeted King & Spalding's decision with enthusiasm.

'King & Spalding has rightly chosen to put principle above politics in dropping its involvement in the defense of this discriminatory and patently unconstitutional law. We are pleased to see the firm has decided to stand on the right side of history and remain true to its core values,' HRC said in its official statement.

'Today, we learned once again that it is a bad idea to defend anti-Gay bias and discrimination in court, and fewer and fewer people are willing to do it. We welcome the news that the law firm, King & Spalding, has decided to withdraw from the engagement to represent House leadership in defending DOMA,' Lambda Legal's Jon Davidson said. Self-identified conservative Gay blogger Andrew Sullivan had a different take on the issue, however.

'To put pressure on lawyers defending clients or laws because lobby groups don't like them is deeply illiberal,' Sullivan wrote.

'Memo to the Gay rights leadership: The ends do not justify the means. & When civil rights groups bully, they lose the moral high ground.'

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