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November 20, 2009 12:46 PM

Retired Senator Calls Legal Bills 'Outlandish'

Posted by Brian Baxter

Correction, 11/20/09, 5:06 p.m.: The story, as first posted, stated that Pete Domenici was a former senator from Arizona. He is a retired U.S. senator from New Mexico. We regret the error.

Retired U.S. senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico has paid more than $700,000 to seven law firms--six of them in The Am Law 200--to defend his alleged role in the firing of former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias in 2007. And he isn't happy about it.

The former senator, who is also an attorney, told the Albuquerque Journal the fees were "outlandish," but that "you can't do without [lawyers] because you don't know where these things can turn."

According to The Associated Press, which broke the story about the disclosures made in an October 2008 report to the Federal Election Commission, Domenici's campaign committee, People for Pete, listed $705,043 in legal fees related to the ethics investigation. Most of those fees were paid to O'Melveny & Myers, which received $602,054.

In September 2008, former U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey, now of Debevoise & Plimpton, appointed career federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate the firings. A Justice Department report released that month found "significant evidence" that several U.S. attorneys were fired in late 2006 for political reasons.

Domenici's lead lawyer is O'Melveny litigation partner K. Lee Blalack II in Washington, D.C. Blalack has represented several prominent politicians in legal trouble, such as former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in connection with his sale of stock from a blind trust and former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham in a public corruption investigation that ended with an eight-year prison sentence.

Given the legal tabs of several other prominent politicians under investigation, Domenici's bills seem more standard than outlandish for top notch D.C. representation.

Besides O'Melveny, campaign disclosures list disbursements to the following firms: $49,817 to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, $19,827 to Covington & Burling, $13,020 to King & Spalding, $12,373 to Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, $7,662 to McKenna Long & Aldridge, and $289 to Albuquerque's Keleher & McLeod.

Since his dismissal as U.S. Attorney, Iglesias has stated his intention to abandon politics for a media job. He's been making the rounds ever since, penning this op-ed for The New York Times, being profiled by The Washington Post, granting numerous interviews about his firing, and recently telling Esquire he thinks waterboarding is torture but supports military commissions for terror trials.

For his part, Domenici announced in October 2007 that he would retire at the end of his term after he was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. One of his sons, Peter Jr., is the founder of the Domenici Law Firm in Albuquerque.

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