Former Defense of Marriage Act Defenders' History of Unprofessionalism

by J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS June 15, 2011
The giant law firm King & Spalding received a flurry of criticism recently for canceling its agreement to represent the United States House of Representatives in defending the Defense of Marriage Act.  After Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would no longer defend the constitutionality of the law, the House retained the high priced Atlanta firm to do the job Holder took an oath to do. 
After vocal pressure from gay activist groups, the firm flinched, and dumped their client in the middle of litigation. King and Spalding attorney Paul Clement nobly resigned in protest over the ethically questionable dump of their client and continued to represent the House at a new firm.
But I have learned that this isn’t the first time King & Spalding has been criticized for its unprofessionalism. Those familiar with the New Black Panther voter intimidation case I brought while I was an attorney at the Justice Department will also recognize the name Christopher Coates. Coates was the former Justice Department Voting Section Chief who testified, as I did, before the Civil Rights Commission about the Justice Department’s racially unequal law enforcement priorities. 
In Williams v. General Motors Corp., 158 F.R.D. 510 (M.D.Ga. 1993), Judge Duross Fitzpatrick chastised King and Spalding in a published opinion for trying to “take advantage of the personal crisis” of Coates when he was in private practice. 
Counsel for both sides of the lawsuit were in Albany, Georgia, to take depositions. In the middle of the night before the first deposition, the Coates got an emergency call telling him that his father was gravely ill and imploring him to come to Charlotte, North Carolina immediately. (Coates’ father died a few weeks later.)   Coates instructed his paralegal to call the King and Spalding lawyers to explain what happened (which she did), and Coates immediately left for North Carolina to be with his dying father.
Human decency and professional courtesy would dictate that the lawyers merely reschedule the deposition. But King and Spalding instead filed a motion for monetary sanctions against Coates for being at his critically ill father’s bedside instead of attending a deposition!
Not only did Judge Fitzpatrick deny the motion for sanctions, he actually awarded sanctions against the King and Spalding lawyers for filing the motion in the first place. An obviously angry Judge Fitzpatrick unloaded on Paul Clement’s former firm. Fitzpatrick wrote that the law had “reached a sad state when one lawyer will take advantage of the personal crisis of his brother lawyer…The fact that Defendants’ counsel is a member of one of the most respected law firms, not only in the state, but in the whole country, make his conduct even more shameful.”
The same could be said for King and Spalding abandoning a client and case it had taken.
Judge Fitzpatrick described the base character of the firm’s actions. “Traditionally, at least in smaller towns and cities of this state the reaction of a lawyer to his opponent’s personal crisis would be one of concern, but here, the reaction was solely one of greed – who will pay me for my lost time?”
Since Paul Clement left King and Spalding, numerous clients have fired the firm, including Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the National Rifle Association. Paul Clement, by resigning to continue the representation of the House of Representatives, has clearly helped to safeguard the interests of the professionalism. Sadly, King & Spalding’s actions have twice harmed the profession.
Few understand how large high priced law firms have devoted millions of dollars in attorney time to the agenda of left wing activist groups. Two firms, Jenner and Block and Eric Holder’s old firm, Covington and Burling, have spent hundreds of pro bono hours representing terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay. In contrast, the same sort of giant law firms dump paying clients who represent organizations or efforts seeking to defend the traditional American family. These giant law firms are using their top end legal fees to subsidize an activist agenda at odds with most of America. Whether the clients who pay the exorbitant fees to subsidize these activist agendas even know or care remains to be seen.
Judge Fitzgerald concluded his decision sanctioning King and Spalding by saying that when “all courtesy, goodwill and decency should finally be bled out of the practice of law it will be a sad and bitter calling that remains;  I cannot imagine a more unpleasant way to earn a living than to be a lawyer in a profession devoid of any semblance of kindness, courtesy or humanity.” The firm never learned that courtesy, goodwill and decency includes representing your client even when that representation does not meet the latest politically correct standards, or when an opposing lawyer has a critically ill relative. Contributing Editor J. Christian Adams is an election law attorney and was formerly with the Department of Justice Voting Section. He resigned after the Justice Department dropped already won voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party. His website is

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