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Lloyd Cutler 1917-2005

Consummate Lawyer Played Array of Roles

President Jimmy Carter congratulates Lloyd Cutler after appointing him White House counsel in 1979. Cutler returned to the White House in 1994 as counsel to President Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation.
President Jimmy Carter congratulates Lloyd Cutler after appointing him White House counsel in 1979. Cutler returned to the White House in 1994 as counsel to President Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation. (Upi)

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 9, 2005

Lloyd Cutler, 87, a Washington legal mandarin who served as White House counsel under presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, died yesterday at his home in Washington. He had complications from a broken hip.

Cutler was a commanding presence among the capital's power elite for decades and at home in the highest levels of industry, government and politics. He was a founding partner of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, one of the city's leading law firms. Last year, it merged with a Boston firm to become Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, with offices on three continents and more than 1,000 lawyers.

Cutler was a Democrat who was nonpartisan in his legal work. His clients ranged from liberal advocacy groups to big business, including trade associations for cars, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. His corporate clients included The Washington Post Co., CBS, Bethlehem Steel, Kaiser Steel, IBM, American Express, Pan American World Airways and the Long Island Rail Road.

At times, he assisted such prominent Republicans as former secretaries of state George P. Shultz, Henry Kissinger and James A. Baker III. He once was an arbiter for the Rolling Stones during a disagreement with the band's manager and, in perhaps one of his least heralded success stories, persuaded Mick Jagger to wear a necktie at the Metropolitan Club.

Louis R. Cohen, a partner at the firm and a former deputy solicitor general of the United States, said that for many, his boss "defined political and legal public policy in Washington." He cited Cutler's active role spanning the major issues of his lifetime, including the law of the sea and public policies affecting housing, railroads and disarmament.

A gravelly-voiced and courtly man who exuded Ivy League polish and confidence, Cutler had admirers who liked to highlight his pro bono work dating from the civil rights battles of the 1960s. He co-chaired a group called Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, formed at the request of President John F. Kennedy. He also played a major role in organizing lawyers to defend those whose civil rights had been violated for protesting segregation as well as those arrested during the riots spurred by the killing of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

He later argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. , (1982), which helped the civil rights organization avoid paying a large financial penalty for having organized a boycott against white merchants in Mississippi in the late 1960s.

He was seen by his close associates as an idealist who asked that his employees always find "the right answer," even if it did not mesh initially with the client's desire. Much of his work was focused on the notion of finding an avenue of compromise between big industries, which seldom wished to capitulate, and their equally ardent adversaries.

Perhaps Cutler's most persistent critic was consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who once called him "the symbol of anti-consumerism in Washington" for having helped the auto industry in the 1960s avoid proposed criminal penalties for safety violations.

Joseph Laitin, the late Washington Post ombudsman and Treasury Department spokesman, described Cutler as "a corporate godfather by day and Sister Theresa by night."

Once, in connection with his representation of the pharmaceutical industry, Cutler explained his work in these terms:

"I take a dim view of the idea that any right-minded lawyer can immediately detect which side of a legislative, regulatory or litigation issue is the public interest side and that right-minded lawyers should decline to represent anyone representing a different side.


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