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    April 12, 2011  
Studley LEGAL
SCOTUS Goes Wilde


Congressional codswallop and allegations of buying favors can be quite funny. Last night, Justices Alito, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor presided over the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual mock trial, this time with facts from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband.

Justices Sam Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor at the Shakespeare Theatre

Federal judges Merrick Garland, Douglas Ginsburg, Brett Kavanaugh, and David Tatel filled out the bench. If you were away from your computer in the two hours it took “The Robert Chiltern Affair” to sell out, here’s the gist: The play, originally set in 1800's England, was adapted to 21st century DC. Mrs. Chevely asks her congressman to support an earmark on the House floor—if he doesn’t, she’ll expose an old impropriety of his on her website, wikispeaks.com. One more twist: Rep. Chiltern’s wife adores his impeccable character and may abandon him if the secret’s exposed. Though Wilde's play neglected to mention it, the federal government sued Mrs. Chevely (on grounds of Section 873) in the Supreme Court.


Did Mrs. Chevely commit blackmail, or friendly lobbying? Ruth Bader Ginsburg sat as chief justice (for her ninth year in a row). Paul Weiss’ Beth Wilkinson argued for the defense, and acting DC AG Irv Nathan was counsel to the U.S.

Beth Wilkinson of Paul, Weiss, at the Shakespeare Theatre

Beth started off her argument saying Mrs. Chevely only tried to expose something every woman already knows: “There’s no such thing as an ideal husband.” (Of course, she made an exception for her own, Meet the Press host David Gregory, sitting in the audience.) Since the blackmail statute says info must be exchanged for “money or other valuable thing," Beth defended her client's actions by claiming a House floor speech is of no value anyway. As we know, she said, representatives usually do everything possible to avoid listening to those speeches themselves.


Justice Alito pointed out that economists can calculate the value of anything, even a speech. Inputting all the variables about seniority and topic, Alito put this speech at about $4.99. Above, he's with Bonnie and Otto Hetzel during pre-trial cocktail hour (probably not an occurrence before most Supreme Court cases).

Irvin Nathan and Judge Merrick Garland

We snapped Irv with Judge Garland before they separated to opposite sides of the bench. When it was Irv’s turn, he contended that a floor speech indeed has value and threw out a reference to his actual gig, saying "though perhaps not as much value as two fully loaded SUVs."


Irv, a former House GC stands next to his wife, Dr. Judith Walter. They're flanked by Judge Tatel's wife, education consultant Dr. Edith Tatel; G'town Law prof Jeff Bauman; and employment law expert Fortney & Scott's Burt Fishman. After the trial, Irv told us it was fun making jokes about tough spots, but this mock trial was still a one-off event. (Scroll down to see whether his argument—complete with Charlie Sheen, Southwest Airlines, and Abramoff references—held up.)

Williams & Connoley's David Kendall at the Shakespeare Theatre

We spotted Williams & Connolly legend David Kendall with a characteristic grin (and that was before Justice Ginsburg even claimed Mrs. Chevely wasn’t given her Vienna Convention rights).

Dickstein's Paul Taskier and Shakespeare Theatre Company boar chair Mike Klein

After publishing a story about Dickstein's Paul Taskier yesterday, we ran into him with Shakespeare Theatre board chair Mike Klein. Little-known fact: Shakespeare may have started Paul’s legal career. The senior lit partner was an English major at Tufts after taking a class on Shakespeare (with none none other than prolific Signet Classics editor Sylvan Barnet). Later, as school newspaper editor-in-chief, he noticed that past editors had gone to A&P for a year before law school, so he did the same. Almost 30 years later, he's going strong.

McDermott's Abbe Lowell

While the Justices conferred backstage, McDermott's Abbe Lowell, a Shakespeare Theatre Company trustee, conducted a quick Q&A and weighed audience votes. Turns out, the seven Justices and the approximately 700 lawyers in attendence had the same idea: Mrs. Chevely is guilty. Beth's impassioned rebuttal directed to the ladies on the bench did have one effect: Justice Ginsburg turned over the announcement to Justice Alito so she could dissent.

Did we miss you at the mock trial? Send your favorite quip to our legal reporter: roksana@bisnow.com.
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