Getting at the Truth

About Rumored Merger

Some lawyers at Howrey Simon Arnold & White LLP were unsettled last week after word leaked that their District-based firm is talking about teaming up with lawyers from Clements, O'Neill, Pierce, Wilson & Fulkerson LLP, home of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth frontman John E. O'Neill.

A spokeswoman at Howrey Simon confirmed discussions with lawyers at Houston-based Clements O'Neill, but she said nothing is imminent. She said the discussions were geared toward potentially hiring some of Clements O'Neill's lawyers, not acquiring the firm. Howrey Simon has about 550 lawyers, and Clements O'Neill has just 30.

"There is no deal with the Clements firm. There have been discussions with certain members of the firm -- not John O'Neill," said Chris Till, the Howrey Simon spokeswoman.

That didn't stop some at Howrey Simon, particularly those who lean Democratic, from recoiling at the news.

"People are quite upset about it," said a partner, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

O'Neill has been one of Sen. John F. Kerry's (Mass.) chief antagonists this summer, questioning the Democratic presidential nominee's military record in Vietnam, where O'Neill also served.

Presidential campaign contributions from lawyers at Howrey Simon -- which has traditionally been nonpartisan -- have skewed toward the Democrats in 2004. Is the firm trying to hedge its bets in case of a Bush victory? Probably not.

A more likely explanation is that the firm is trying to beef up its Houston office, particularly in the litigation division, which is a Clements O'Neill specialty.

O'Neill declined, through a spokesman, to comment.

-- Griff Witte