Thursday, October 25, 2007


We interrupt our normal cyncial news commentary to note two celebrations I attended, one yesterday and one today.

My old colleage Doug Letter of the U.S. Department of Justice won the Tom Clark award, given once a year by the Federal Bar Association to a lawyer for outstanding government service. Over 80 government agencies nominated lawyers for this award, and the committee selected Doug. Doug has served at DOJ 29 years and is now the Appellate Litigation Counsel and also, more recently, the Terrorism Litigation Counsel in the Department's Civil Division.

Among the many lovely things people said about Doug at the well-attended ceremony, the one that rang truest to me was when Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler mentioned Doug's reputation for ethical lawyering and said particularly that Doug never hesitates when choosing to act ethically. That was absolutely my experience in my four years as Doug's colleague.

Litigation involves constant ethical dilemmas -- at least once a week (probably more often in trial practice, but we only did appeals), you face some situation where you could gain an advantage by skirting the rules or even by doing something that was perfectly within the rules but just a little bit questionable. I can't tell you the number of times where I was in such a situation, and I usually took it to Doug. He never hesitated. Even when no actual violation of any law or rule was involved -- even when I just said that doing the advantageous thing would make me uncomfortable -- he would immediately say that we shouldn't try to win that way. He always plays it straight. He's given up innumerable opportunities to gain some small advantage for the government, but he's developed a reputation for ethical action that causes colleagues, government agencies, and courts to trust him, and that's proven far more valuable in the long run. Well done, Doug, and congratulations on your well-deserved honor.

Today I attended a ceremony commemorating the life of Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila, who died in a tragic plane crash five years ago today, just 11 days before the Senator was up for re-election. Congressman Keith Ellison hosted the ceremony, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar also spoke. Excerpts from the movie Wellstone! were shown, and then people shared stories of their memories of Paul and Sheila. It was very moving -- I had a vague understanding of Wellstone as quite a firebrand, but I didn't appreciate just how strongly that was true. His presence is missed.

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