It’s official: Well-known Bay Area lawyer Tony West is President Obama’s nominee to head up the Justice Department’s civil division.
A former federal prosecutor in the Northern District, West would leave his partnership at Morrison & Foerster to take over a sprawling portfolio at main Justice: the civil division includes a fraud section (which handles a booming health care docket), tort lawyers and immigration lawyers. West will oversee at least 750 attorneys, plus staff, according to the department’s web site.
Folks in Northern California’s federal bar had expected West — one of Obama’s biggest California fundraisers — to decamp to Washington, D.C., especially after West’s wife, Maya Harris, accepted a job with the Ford Foundation in New York City. West was traveling Thursday and did not return a message.
A few things strike Legal Pad as intriguing:
(Which we’ll discuss after the jump:)
Civil division lawyers have been defending the government in the warrant-less wiretapping litigation before Chief Judge Vaughn Walker here in San Francisco. This is probably one of the most politically sensitive civil cases in the department. But West’s MoFo partner James Brosnahan represented one of the plaintiffs against the telecom companies. Though this is not the part of the case that's still active, it was consolidated with the still-kicking Al Haramain complaint. Will West have to recuse himself?
In a Jan. 5 ruling in Al Haramain, Walker gave the government two weeks to make a crucial classified document available for his review — and just over a month to bestow top-secret security clearances on Jon Eisenberg and two other plaintiffs’ lawyers so they too could see the secret filing.
The government filed a notice of appeal. In a case management statement filed on Tuesday, Eisenberg noted that “at 10:56 p.m. Eastern time on January 19, 2009 – 64 minutes before midnight on the last day of the Bush presidency,” the government asked Walker to halt the case until the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals makes a decision. The feds have also refused to clear the plaintiffs’ lawyers to view the document.
Citing the “advent” of the Obama’s administration and public statements made by his picks for Attorney General and chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Eisenberg wrote that “it would be a remarkable turnabout for the new Department of Justice…to refuse any declassification here and continue the effort to resist a decision on plaintiffs’ standing.”
In addition to Al Haramain, West will have other ideologically charged litigation on his plate, not least over access to the Bush Administration’s secret legal memos in the war on terror (including one examined by Cal Law this week). Given the West family’s political leanings (his wife headed up the ACLU here), it will be fascinating to watch how much of that translates into changing litigation postures in these cases.
— Evan Hill & Dan Levine