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November 19, 2007

Supreme Court Tigress Ready to Pounce Again


With the Supreme Court in full swing, we figured it'd be a good time to drop in on Latham's Maureen Mahoney, who's become as much of a fixture at the High Court as the traditional white quills placed at the counsel tables. She's now preparing for a January 16th argument in Quanta Computer v. LG Electronics, marking her 19th appearance before the Supremes. Bisnow asked the appellate whiz (and Supreme Court nomination short-lister) to describe the advocacy style that has made her so successful. After demurring for a moment, she said: "Well, some have called me a tigress."
One of Maureen's favorite cases was a Second Circuit appeal over the COHIBA trademark. Maureen successfully argued on behalf of General Cigar Company, exclusive owners of the U.S. mark, that the U.S. embargo prevented Cuba's official tobacconists, Cubatabaco, from asserting rights to the trademark in the U.S. The Supreme Court denied cert last year, cementing the victory. Now Maureen smokes a COHIBA after all her appellate victories. Okay, fine, we made that last part up.
The Quanta appeal comes from the Federal Circuit over a question of patent exhaustion. The case's selection, Maureen says, is part of a current trend in which the Court has been taking a larger percentage of business matters, particularly in the patent and anti-trust area, where the Roberts court has been applying economic principles to its jurisprudence. So how, exactly, does one prepare for an appearance before the highest court in the land? "Exhaustively," Maureen quips. She writes hundreds of questions on note cards, whittling her focus down to the toughest ones as she goes. She also does a few moot court sessions, often organized through the US Chamber of Commerce or Georgetown Law's Supreme Court Institute. Staffing for a Supreme Court argument depends on complexities of each case, but the team of five on Quanta is fairly typical.
The shirt comes from a Washington rally held by employees of Arthur Andersen while they were being vilified in the Enron scandal. The resulting Supreme Court case, in which Maureen scored a 9-0 reversal of the company's criminal conviction, is "near and dear" to her heart. Just getting certiorari felt like a "minor miracle," she says, considering the statute at issue had been amended by the time the case bubbled up.
Becoming a "master of the material" is necessary—especially when you face 56 questions in 30 minutes, as Maureen did while defending the University of Michigan Law school's admission policies in the closely followed Grutter v. Bollinger case. She's currently gearing up for a 10th Circuit appeal of former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio's $52 million insider trading conviction. She says there's never been a case like Nacchio's, in which the "inside information" on which his conviction is based, includes internal debates about long-range business forecasts.
Maureen is a longtime Alexandria resident, where she lives with her husband Bill Crispin, an attorney with his own firm. (Children Brad and Abby have both flown the coop to NYC.) She's a regular at area antique shows—you'll find her at one in Old Town this weekend.
According to Maureen, the ability to highlight an appeal's impact on the legal landscape—and thus get heard before the Supreme Court—is something that Supreme Court practitioners tend to do better than other attorneys. It's one reason she thinks that the relatively recent phenomenon of Supreme Court practices are here to stay. Her own experience at the Court began as a clerk to Justice Rehnquist. Later, when she was just 34 and practicing at Latham, he called to appoint her in the case of Mackey v. Lanier. Legend has it that she did so well at argument, the judges were passing notes among themselves about what a skilled tigress—sorry, advocate—they were witnessing.
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