Virginia Severs Ties With King & Spalding

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has severed his office’s relationship with King & Spalding after the firm abandoned its representation of the House of Representatives in the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In my view, Cuccinelli is right to do so. While I have long been critic of DOMA, I have been highly critical of the firm’s handling of the case and dumping a client under pressure. Paul Clement has now left the firm and will represent the House of Representatives as part of Bancroft PLLC.

Cuccinelli insisted that he was taking the action “so that there is no chance that one of my legal clients will be put in the embarrassing and difficult situation like the client you walked away from, the House of Representatives.” While many have said that the act is retaliatory, he has a point. The firm has shown itself as willing to abandon a client when association with a case becomes inconvenient. If a large and profitable firm like King and Spalding will yield to such pressure, what hope is there for smaller firms?

King & Spalding insisted that it had failed to properly “vet” the case. However, critics have pointed to a campaign by various groups to pressure the firm’s large clients.

I have long supported same-sex marriage. Indeed, I have long argued for a universal civil union standard for states (leaving “marriage” definitions to the respective faiths of citizens. I also criticized the Obama Administration for fighting same-sex marriage in court — on the same grounds as the Bush Administration before it finally decided to decline further defense.

Yet, I believe that Congress is entitled to have someone defend the law in court. Indeed, it is best for the system to have this issue fully argued by talented counsel on both sides. What is most disturbing is how short-sighted the campaign against the firm was for some liberal groups. It is equally likely that conservative groups will seek to pressure firms over their representation on gay and lesbian rights.

Trying to deny counsel to the other side of a dispute is the lowest form of advocacy. Such campaigns taint the cause of equal rights and leave an impression that advocates lack confidence that they can prevail on the law alone.

As for King & Spalding, the firm has undermined the entire bar with its decision to abandon this client. No one forced the firm to take the case. The time to review the matter is before making that decision. I am sure such an important case was considered by many at the firm. Now, other powerful clients will cite this decision in seeking to pressure firms to abandon clients that they oppose. While there are greater protections for clients in the criminal law system, the firm abandoned not just a client but core assurance given all clients that we will stand by them regardless of political pressure.

Source: Politico

Jonathan Turley

16 thoughts on “Virginia Severs Ties With King & Spalding”

  1. Ok finally King and Spalding have released a statement about the supposed mistreatment of Paul Clement….next time before ya’ll start talking about how mean the gays are KNOW your FACTS…He broke his own companys rules and took a case without permission he signed contracts with the House of Rep. that he did not have the right to do. and kept his bosses in the dark until the last min…It always helps to know both sides of a story when your judging it.

  2. W=c,

    Think of it this way . . . Angie’s List is a business built on this very phenomena. Happy customers send more customers, unhappy customers drive away customers. It’s just the way of things. Do I wish every service transaction was a great one? Why yes I do and I’ve had the bad haircuts to prove it. 😀

  3. Buddha Is Laughing
    1, May 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    right, well, thanks….what a world….

  4. W=c,

    Absent malpractice, it’s really about the same as any other consumer services transaction absent negligence. If there is no technical breach, malfeasance or negligence but you’re not happy with the service, firing/ending the relationship is really the only option. If you have proof of breach, malfeasance or negligence, there is the option of recovery in civil suit. Otherwise, call it a day and tell everyone who ever asks you for a referral to absolutely not use the services of the person in question. It’s the hazard of contracting services.

  5. Buddha Is Laughing
    1, May 2, 2011 at 7:43 pm ,

    isn’t that a wee bit like ‘you can’t fire me I already quit!!’

    not really recourse for those who aren’t bigwig politicians or government….

  6. I also agree with Mike A.’s post. Is it possible that Clement agreed to take the case without discussing it with his partners? That would make more sense in understanding why the firm backed off the case.

  7. W=c,

    Absent malpractice, their option is exactly what Virginia exercised: fire them.

  8. and what recourse does a client have when this happens?

  9. What Mike A. said.

    They knew what they were getting into. If they were squeamish about the subject matter and the attendant public scrutiny and criticism it could/would/should invite? K&S should have passed on the case to start with. “It’s making us look bad” is a consideration to have before taking the client, not after you’ve been made to look bad.

  10. No one smells good in this story. King & Spalding took on a case that promised to be high profile and highly profitable. The personal feelings of any of the members of that firm were immaterial if the appeal was determined to have legal merit. To abandon a client as a consequence of a public outcry is ignoble and unprofessional.

    Mr. Cuccinelli’s response would be admirable were it principled. But I am not convinced that it was. Given his attitude toward the very idea of gay rights, I believe that his actions would be identical had he learned that King & Spalding had agreed to draft an amicus brief disputing the constitutionality of DOMA.

  11. Question,,,, Not being a lawyer can the experts here tell us..Is this the first time a major, I guess they are a major, law firm has ever pulled out of a case that they decided they didn’t want to be involved in, for whatever reason? just curious.

  12. What rafflaw said. Since most Americans see the defense of DOMA for the farce that it is, this is just John of Orange wasting taxpayer money on one of the GOP’s “pet” causes.

  13. The story has lacked context. How typical is it for the House to secure outside counsel? Beyond his own partisanship, what did Clement really bring to the case? What was Virginia using them to litigate? The state is supposedly broke.

    In a certain sense, King and Spalding’s willingness to get involved in a case where everyone is likely to lose face (except perhaps Boehner with the social conservative base). Then they do the gag order, which seems inappropriate–do they routinely do this with other cases? Etc. and so forth. They’ve managed to offend people across the spectrum and they seem dumb enough to associate themselves with a grandstanding AG, who has used them for his own purpose. They are an Atlanta law firm and despite a significant DC presence, they seem like either a bunch of rubes or just a bunch of typically shallow Atlanta salesmen.

  14. It was a business decision by K&S and isn’t that what America is all about, business? The wise people in the black robes seem to think so. Honor, integrety? OK, is it doesn’t cost us anything.

  15. Professor,
    I agree that the firm should not have withdrawn, I cannot agree that the house needed to hire outside counsel for this defense.

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