Key Figure In US Attorney Firings Can Still Practice Law, Court Rules

August 25, 2009 2:10 p.m.

Via National Law Journal (sub. req.)

This one’ll make your skin crawl…

Kyle Sampson, the Bush Justice Department staffer who played perhaps the most active operational role in the U.S. attorney firings, has been granted a rare waiver to practice law in Washington D.C., despite an ongoing criminal investigation into the scandal.Sampson, who was chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, last year had his application for a law license rejected, pending the result of the criminal investigation, by the D.C. Committee on Admissions. The committee referred to a “cloud” over Sampson’s “moral character,” citing his prominent role in the firings, as documented by two DOJ reports. Among other things, Sampson has been shown to have miseld Congress about the White House’s role in the firings.

But in May, after an unusually intense legal campaign by Sampson’s supporters — as well as a lobbying push directed at the committee — a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the committee, ruling that Sampson could continue practicing law as a partner in the Washington office of Hunton & Williams until a final decision is made on his application.

The campaign on Sampson’s behalf seems to have been extraordinarily intense. In 65 pages of documents, his lawyers tried to defend his role in the firings, arguing that he was guilty only of honest mistakes.

One of Sampson’s backers, George Jones of Sidley Austin, wrote the Committee on Admissions about what a great guy Sampson is. “It is clear that Mr. Sampson has extended himself far beyond what is normally expected of a person caught up in a high-profile Washington political controversy to bring the full truth as he knows it to public light,” wrote Jones, adding that “the courage and integrity it took to choose that path should be rewarded.”

Sampson also gave judges a star-studded list of references, including John Ashcroft, former judge Karen Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, for whom Sampson clerked, and former U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor of the District of Columbia.

One Washington lawyer said that he had never heard of the court granting an indefinite waiver over the objections of the committee. He said Sampson’s lawyers have accomplished “a great piece of creative work.”

Of course, Sampson still figures to be barred if he’s hit with criminal charges by special prosecutor Nora Dannehy. But in the meantime, he’ll be trading on his government experience and blue-chip connections to rake in the dough.

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