Ninth Circuit Judge Jay Bybee, who signed an infamous memo approving the Bush Administration’s use of torture while he led the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, received $3.4 million in free legal and consulting services to help him avoid accountability for his legally and morally indefensible memo. The lion’s share of this massive gift came from Latham & Watkins, a massive corporate law firm whose clients include Koch Industries, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil, and Phillip Morris:
Latham & Watkins’ Maureen Mahoney took on a major assignment when she agreed to represent Jay Bybee, a federal appellate judge who was accused of violating ethics rules for his work at the U.S. Department of Justice on so-called “torture memos.” Newly released records show just how big the assignment was. . . . Nearly all the assistance, $3,251,893, came from Los Angeles-based Latham, whose lawyers used to appear before Bybee in the courtrooms of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Its worth noting that Mahoney isn’t just any big corporate law firm attorney, she is a former law clerk to then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist and is widely considered one of the top appellate litigators in the country. Although it is common — and indeed admirable — for attorneys of this caliber to provide pro bono services, those services are typically offered to the genuinely needy and not to powerful government officials who could resign their judgeship and immediately receive a job in private practice earning a high six or seven figure salary.
Also worth noting is the fact that Miguel Estrada, another top right-wing lawyer and former Bush judicial nominee, represented Bybee’s fellow torture apologist John Yoo. As a law professor, Yoo does not have the same obligation Bybee has to disclose gifts, but it is likely that Estrada’s legal services are no less expensive than Mahoney’s, and unlikely that Yoo’s salary as a law professor pays him enough to hire Estrada on his own unless Estrada’s firm made much or all of his services available for free.
To Bybee’s credit, he is currently recusing himself from cases that Latham & Watkins participates in — an example that Justice Clarence Thomas could learn something from. Nevertheless, Mahoney’s willingness to provide hours upon hours of free legal services in order to protect a key player in President Bush’s torture policy is a frightening sign of just how far conservatives are willing to go to protect their own.