The Work

December 8, 2008 4:30 PM

White & Case's Terwilliger Withdraws from Civil Suit Against Ex-AG

Posted by Brian Baxter


Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is losing a high-profile defense lawyer in the civil suit that he and four other former Justice Department employees face for allegedly politicizing hiring practices.

In a two-page letter to U.S. district court judge John Bates on November 25, White & Case global white-collar defense chief George Terwilliger III (right), a former deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, announced his withdrawal from the case. Terwilliger will continue representing Gonzales in an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

The Am Law Daily was first alerted to the development on Friday when Terwilliger posted a comment to one of our blog posts linking to a Washington Post story about developments in that investigation. Terwilliger was understandably upset that we mistakenly said the Justice Department was paying his fees for work on that suit.

Democratic leaders in Congress succeeded last week in getting Main Justice to disclose the fees billed by Gonzales's counsel in the civil case filed this summer by Van Bael & Bellis associate Sean Gerlich and seven other attorneys rejected from civil service positions under Gonzales. The plaintiffs are being represented by Daniel Metcalfe, a 30-year Justice Department veteran and outspoken critic of Gonzales since retiring in January 2007. Metcalfe now works as a professor at American University's Washington College of Law.

According to the agreement between Main Justice and Gonzales's new attorneys at Washington, D.C.'s Schertler & Onorato--partners Vincent Cohen, Jr., and Lisa Fishberg and counsel Peter Taylor lead the team from the D.C.-based litigation boutique--counsel may charge up to $200 an hour and $24,000 per month for the former attorney general's defense.

Cohen, who declined to talk about the firm's billing arrangement with the government, says the firm was referred to Gonzales and that the two met and had a good conversation. (Cohen says Gonzales liked the "strategic plan" the firm developed for him.)

"All the defendants have filed motions to dismiss and we filed our [motion to dismiss] on December 2," Cohen says. "Our argument is that Alberto Gonzales should be removed in his personal capacity as a defendant in this matter and that if [plaintiffs] want to go forward, then it should not be against him or any other individuals. DOJ also filed a brief, asking that plaintiffs be barred from going forward against the government."

We've put in a call to Terwilliger to see why he dropped out of the civil matter, yet remains on the U.S. attorney firings investigation being conducted by acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut Nora Dannehy. So far we haven't heard back. As Talking Points Memo points out, it probably doesn't bode well for Gonzales. (Metcalfe told the liberal-leaning blog that it's likely because Terwilliger "learned he was going to be otherwise occupied on Gonzales' behalf.")

Also withdrawing from the civil case were White & Case counsel Robert Bittman--deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr during the Monica Lewinsky investigation--and litigation associate Michael Huneke.

Besides Gonzales, the civil suit names the following former Justice Department employees as defendants:

-- Monica Goodling, former principal deputy director of public affairs, who is being represented by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld litigation chief John Dowd and white-collar defense partner Jeffrey King.

-- Louis DeFalaise, former director of the office of attorney recruitment and management, who is being represented by Drinker Biddle & Reath white-collar defense head Charles Leeper.

-- Current McGuireWoods partner Michael Elston, former chief of staff to ex-deputy U.S. attorney general Paul McNulty (now a partner at Baker & McKenzie), who is being represented by Alston & Bird litigation partner Robert Driscoll.

-- Current Seyfarth Shaw litigation associate Esther McDonald, former counsel to associate attorney general William Mercer, who is being represented by King & Spalding litigation partner John "Jack" Bray and Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough litigation partner Holly Pierson.

A Justice Department spokesman would only acknowledge that legal fees are being paid for Gonzales and DeFalaise.

Download plaintiffs seconded amended complaint.

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