Ginsburg and Breyer Hear Arguments About Don Quixote
Why were two Supreme Court justices and three Federal judges gathered this week before a crowd of nearly 800 at Sidney Harman Hall?
They convened as the "Supreme Court of La Mancha" for the 20th year of the Shakespeare Theatre Company's highly popular annual Mock Trial. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, center, were joined by Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit Merrick Garland, US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit Judge Patricia Millett, and US District Court for DC Judge Amy Berman Jackson. This beloved DC event—which takes on a fictional case and has it tried by real attorneys and judges—sells out in minutes every year. As we overheard an audience member say, "It's the best event in town."
In the hearing of the "Trial of Don Quixote," the bench, presided over by Ginsburg, ruled on whether to overturn a lower court's ruling that Don Quixote is mentally incompetent and therefore placed under the guardianship of his niece, Antonia. Sidley Austin's Carter Phillips represented Antonia. The counsel for Don Quixote was Goldstein & Russell's Tom Goldstein. Cracks and references to pop culture abounded, such as Garland's poke at NBC and Brian Williams (both he and Don Quixote said they were in battle) and Millett's at the Downton Abbey office of one former Congressman.
We snapped Carter and Tom. Carter tells us that both submitted an 8-10-page brief—full of citations from Shakespeare and Cervantes—to the justices in advance of the event. Their arguments drew uproarious laughter, such as when Tom commented that as we become older and wiser, we can become injured, whether that's falling off of a horse (as Don Quixote did) or falling off of a bike. Other moments got loud applause, like Carter starting off his argument with "Thank you Madame Chief Justice," and adding, "I've been waiting a long time to say that."
Chadbourne litigation and white collar defense practices chair Abbe Lowell, an STC board member and Bard Association chair, weighed the audience's votes while the justices deliberated. Which side won? After a trial with references ranging from Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry's Left Shark to the Family Court of the Ninth Circuit, the Court (and audience) voted in favor of the appellant. Ginsburg said that Don Quixote needs no guardianship. "The thing about trials, says Abbe, "Is that they vest everyone observing to take sides. It's an effective technique to draw the audience in."
At a cocktail reception after the performance, Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director Michael Kahn smiled alongside Justices Breyer and Ginsburg. The rumor is he's good friends with Ginsburg, who often attends STC performances, and she'll be officiating his wedding this weekend.
We spotted ACLU DC legal director Art Spitzer, right, with Elisabeth Boas and Sidley partner and former SEC GC Geoffrey Aronow. Nearby, guests snacked on catering by Rosa Mexicana, finishing off with a dessert of churros with chocolate, caramel and raspberry sauce.
Sidley antitrust partner and former FTC commissioner Andrew Strenio and privacy, data security and information law practice leader Alan Raul also came to the Mock Trial to support their colleague, Carter Phillips.
McDermott government strategies head Stephen Ryan—a member of the STC Board of Trustees and the Bard Association—brought along his son, Matt, who was visiting from New York. That night, Stephen and Abbe Lowell also filed a venue change request to have Sen. Bob Menendez's federal corruption case moved from New Jersey to DC.