There is nothing dispassionate in the way Washington lawyers view attempts by the ethics committee of the D.C. Bar to curb the revolving door between government and private practice.
Federal attorneys say that at least one of the bar's proposed rules is an unconstitutional intrusion on the supremacy of the federal government over state regulation and are threatening to ignore that rule. Monroe H. Freedman, one of the prime movers behind the proposal, charged the latest draft is "gutted to the extent it oils the revolving door."
Freedman made that comment even before the Bar's Board of Governors took its first crack at the proposals, softening them even more.
No matter what the Board of Governors does, nothing is final until the D.C. Court of Appeals acts on the proposals -- thus ensuring at least six months to a year of additional debate among Washington lawyers.
Feelings ran high at a meeting of the Women's Bar Association just before the D.C. Bar Board of Governors' session. Government lawyers made it clear they felt it was demeaning to them to think they would sell out for a future job.
Moreover, Deanne Siemer, general counsel of the Department of Defense, said the proposals would interfere with the government's ability to best use its lawyers.
"If the government needs protection, Congress is well able to provide this kind of protection," she said, pointing to the recently passed ethics law, which places restrictions on post-government employment.
She also raised the possibility of simply ignoring a provision that would restrict the work a lawyer could do in government during the first year after leaving private practice. This, she said, violates the constitutional principle that no state can regulate the federal government.
The Bar governors ignored Siemer's arguments when they voted on that provision a few hours later. It was passed unanimously with no discussion of the constitutional question.
The clearest indication of the Board of Governors' attitude came later, when it picked the least stringent of four alternatives for restricting the clients a lawyer could accept after leaving government.
The Board of Governors rejected the ethics committee recommendation that would keep a lawyer from taking a job with a company or individual -- but not a law firm -- that he had dealt with in his last year of government service. That rule, members of the board said, would make it too hard for government lawyers to find other jobs.
Instead, it passed a provision that would merely prohibit a government lawyer from negotiating for a new job with anyone -- law firm or industry -- that he was presently dealing with.
The Board of Governors will continue deliberating the ethics committee proposals Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.