AN ITEM IN MONDAY'S WASHINGTON BUSINESS ABOUT JOHN W. NIELDS JR.'S ELECTION AS PRESIDENT OF THE D.C. BAR INCORRECTLY STATED THAT FORMER SUPREME COURT JUSTICE BYRON WHITE WAS DECEASED. (PUBLISHED 06/17/99)

John Nields, a partner at Howrey & Simon and a well-known white-collar defense lawyer, was elected president-elect of the D.C. Bar last week, snaring 61 percent of the vote and defeating William F. Causey of Peabody & Brown for the job. Nields is a familiar face in Washington, where he has defended the much-indicted Webster Hubbell and served as the chief counsel to the House Ethics Committee in 1977 during Korea-gate, a scandal involving bribes to members of Congress from representatives of the Korean government. In his youth, he clerked for now-deceased Supreme Court Justice Byron White.

But Nields's real claims to fame are his two daughters, Narissa and Katryna, who comprise the heart of the Nields, a Massachusetts-based alternative pop band with a strong local following. What can John Nields do for the band, now that he's been elected to a big new job?

"You're asking it the wrong way around," Nields said, with a chuckle. "That implies that the band needs some help. In fact, the bar needs some help. You should be asking what the band can do for the bar."

Napping on the Bench?

Not everyone, it seems, is charmed by Judge Stanley Sporkin's in-court demeanor.

Last month, Hearsay described Sporkin's habit of squirming and fidgeting and then appearing to nod off for momentary spells on the bench. In Hearsay's telling, these were the endearing idiosyncrasies of a gifted jurist, but one former defendant thinks Sporkin's apparent catnaps might have deprived him of a fair trial.

Sheldon Ray, a real estate salesman, lost a civil case before Sporkin in 1997, with the judge finding that Ray committed an "egregious" breach of fiduciary duty by engineering a sweetheart real estate deal behind a client's back. In October of that year, Ray was ordered to hand over $63,875 in profits from the deal, plus a portion of the plaintiff's attorney's fees.

As part of his efforts to overturn the verdict, Ray filed a statement under penalty of perjury stating that the judge slept through parts of the proceedings. Here's an excerpt, sent to Hearsay by Laurence Elgin, a solo practitioner in Washington and the chagrined attorney for Ray's codefendant:

"The judge's clerk repeatedly rose from her seat, approached the bench, leaned over the rostrum, and awakened the judge by gently striking him with pages from exhibits before him. At one point Ray's counsel made an objection to a statement by plaintiff's counsel, to which there was no response from the judge, whose eyes had been closed for several minutes. When the judge awakened and asked what was going on, counsels explained that they had worked out their differences without his interference."

Judge Sporkin declined to comment.

Targeting a German Company

Does ubiquitous plaintiff's attorney Michael Hausfeld have something against German conglomerate BASF? Surely not, but he sure seems to spend a lot of time and energy suing the company.

In fact, Hausfeld is now involved in two actions against BASF. The chemical company is one of three vitamin makers negotiating with Hausfeld and a few dozen other attorneys to settle a private class-action suit for their role in a massive price-fixing conspiracy. Those talks, which are set to resume this week, have been held at Hausfeld's D.C. office at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll and are expected to yield a settlement that could total nearly $1 billion. BASF in that case is being represented by Tyrone Fahner of Mayer, Brown & Platt.

Meanwhile, BASF is one of the companies that Hausfeld is suing in a class-action suit on behalf of Holocaust-era forced laborers. The victims' lawyers, who include Martin Mendelsohn of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, seek restitution for the pain and suffering of survivors.

But negotiations in that case broke down last week when BASF and 15 other German companies decided they would make cash offers directly to the victims -- hoping to cut Hausfeld and his colleagues out of the deal and perhaps save themselves a few bucks on a settlement that could cost as much as $2 billion. BASF is represented in this case by Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering attorneys, including partner Roger Witten.

Naturally, Hausfeld et al. were livid that the German companies were attempting an end run around the plaintiffs' lawyers. As Hausfeld sees it, if BASF can figure out how to sign on the dotted line of one class-action settlement -- the vitamin case -- it ought to be able to sign a deal on the forced-labor issue as well.

"In the vitamin case, the lawyers clearly understand that the only available means of resolving the claim is through the U.S. class action," Hausfeld said. "That concept doesn't seem to carry over to the slave-labor issue."

Ruff Justice

Charles F.C. Ruff, comedian.

Seriously. The White House counsel, who announced this week that he is leaving his job to return to private practice, actually proved quite the yuckster at a June 4 meeting of the D.C. Judicial Conference at the Capitol Hilton. The Post's Peter Slevin reports that Ruff, who earned high marks for his defense of the First Client during the impeachment hearings, elicited laughs in a tongue-in-cheek speech proposing a radical reform of the justice system. The gist? Make the courts more fair by modeling them on a Senate impeachment trial. Here's how:

1. Juries should be expanded from 12 members to 100.

2. Jurors should set all rules, feeling free to change them each day.

3. Jurors should review grand jury testimony, decide which witnesses will appear and conduct depositions personally.

4. Jurors should tell the judge what to do.

5. Jurors should consult with the lawyers each day, comment on their performance and tell them what to cover next.

Noting that "there isn't enough ceremony" in courts, Ruff suggested that prosecutors routinely be escorted formally from the courtroom while defense lawyers sneak out the back door.

Okay, so he's no Buddy Hackett, but hey, what does Hackett know about constitutional law?

Send tips and gossip, but not flackery, to segald@washpost.com

CAPTION: JOHN NIELDS

CAPTION: White House Charles F.C. Ruff is no Buddy Hackett (inset).