D.C. Lawyers Defend DOJ Attorneys
By Stephanie Woodrow | March 5, 2022 5:46 pm

Lawyers at some of the biggest firms in Washington, D.C., weighed in on the recent disclosure of the nine Justice Department lawyers who represented alleged terrorist detainees while working in private practice, The Blog of Legal Times reported Friday. The names of two of the nine were previously known and Fox News identified the remaining seven on Wednesday.

On Monday, Keep America Safe, a conservative non-profit founded by Elizabeth Cheney and Bill Kristol, released a video that sharply criticized and questioned the loyalty of the lawyers for their previous work. The video referred to the seven then-unidentified lawyers as the “al Qaeda Seven.”

One of the seven is Karl Thompson, who previously worked for O’Melveny & Myers LLP and was part of the team that defended Omar Khadr. Thompson is now at the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel. In an op-ed for the Washington Post Friday, former Acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger defended the DOJ lawyer and said he asked Thompson to help with Khadr’s case. (See our story on Dellinger’s piece here.)

Brian Brooks, managing partner of O’Melveny’s Washington, D.C., office, also spoke up for Thompson, according to the BLT.

“From the perspective of our firm, providing representation for unpopular causes is a long and noble tradition in the law, and that kind of criticism is not going to affect our firm’s commitment to that cause,” Brooks said. “If the private bar doesn’t step up and show that kind of courage, then I think our whole system of justice is in question.”

Brooks, a self-proclaimed conservative, added, “There’s a consensus from left to right that law and justice need to be insulated from politics.”

Carter Phillips, now the managing partner of Sidley Austin LLP’s Washington, D.C. office, told The BLT he feels “horrible” that a former partner, Joseph Guerra, now Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General, is taking heat for his participation in a U.S. Supreme Court brief in a detainee case.

Phillips, who also was on the brief, said, “I always think it is an outrage when people attack the lawyers for whom they represent. To me it’s unfortunate that we’re talking about wonderful talent, relatively young lawyers who … are now being pilloried for something that they ought to have been cheered for.”

Thomas Milch, chair of Arnold & Porter LLP, said he is proud to have colleagues who advocated on behalf of detainees. “I really do salute the private lawyers who stepped up to represent the Guantanamo detainees,”  Milch said. “It’s an act in the best traditions of the profession, and I salute even more the lawyers who then went in to the government.”

In an email to The BLT, Miguel Estrada, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and a Bush administration judicial nominee, said that the video would probably not deter lawyers from future pro bono work. But he added that the public should know who the attorneys are.

Estrada wrote, “It is also fair to conclude that those lawyers personally favor giving greater procedural protections to people who may want to do us harm. But at the same time it is not necessarily fair to conclude that they cannot put their personal preferences aside in working for the government. That depends on the individual involved. I suspect some do and others don’t.”

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