ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH JOHN JUDE O’DONNELL
by DANIEL M. SINGER
Mr. O’Donnell: So, what’s on the agenda for today?
Mr. Singer: What’s on the agenda is going to be sort of introductory. One of
the easy ways to start off is to begin at the beginning in a narrative sense at your own pace with
regard to where you were born. I know when you were born. I know you were born in 1932 in
Washington, D. C. But then, take it from there in terms of schooling, family, size of family, what
your parents did, how you got from there to some kind of defined starting point.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, we are Washingtonians and my four grandparents were born
in the District of Columbia. My father and mother were married inmid-1920 or 1921. My
mother was a college grad. She was an organist and a school teacher. They had ten children -eight
to majority. I was the eighth child. I would have been the sixth child surviving 21. We
always say among the brothers (the seven brothers — seven boys and one girl) — there were two
doctors, two lawyers, two priests and a brother who lived in Baltimore (who never thought that
was funny). One of the brothers was a lawyer who later became a priest.
My mother’s youngest sister married Charles Fahy who was an advisor to President
Franklin Roosevelt and was involved with the exchange with Great Britain of the destroyers for
the bases in 1940-41, was involved at Nuremberg, became the Solicitor General of the United
States and eventually sat as a judge of our United States Court of Appeals for the District of
Mr. Singer: I have a recollection that he won the Navy Cross as a flyer in the
First World War.
Mr. O’Donnell: He did. He was one of, as I understand it, the first flyers to fly the
Alps in a bi-plane. For that he got the Navy Cross. He went to Notre Dame. He was from
Rome, Georgia. And his wife, my mother’s youngest sister, was my godmother. So, I was
treated kind of specially as a little boy, and he was one of my heroes. And my godfather was an
attorney here in Washington by the name of Arthur P. Drury, whose firm, Drury, Lynham &
Powell existed for many, many years. He had no children and so, therefore, I became somewhat
of a surrogate child. So those are two of my heroes growing up — who were lawyers — and I
never had any interest other than becoming a lawyer, even at five or six years old. Although,
obviously, I didn’t know what that meant at the time.
I went to school at a little school here in Washington — St. Thomas the Apostle. It
was one of those last schools where you had two grades in one room And I went through there,
and then I went to Georgetown Prep. Went to Prep for four years. My six brothers graduated
from Georgetown. I was the black sheep as I went to Villanova.
Mr. Singer: Was it just that easy that —
Mr. O’Donnell: No. Villanova had made a mistake when I was a kid. When I was
in my junior year, they took me up on one of those football weekends to see Villanova play, and
at 15 years of age, that was so overwhelming. An honor. You know, you just don’t get that out
of your system, and then they found out that I was only a junior and that was the end of that. My
father would never let any of us play college football.
Mr. Singer: Why not?
Mr. O’Donnell: He was always concerned about the injuries, and by the time the
younger group came along, including me, he had made enough money, he thought, he didn’t need
to be taking a scholarship away from somebody needy. But that was more of an excuse — he
really didn’t want anyone getting hurt. Some of my older brothers had bad injuries in other
sports in college, and he was concerned. So, I convinced my mother and father to let me go to
Villanova. I went there and was very happy.
Mr. Singer: Jumping ahead to a question that I don’t want to lose. Did your
kids play ball?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. My two sons were excellent ball players, and Phil was a
quarter-miler among other races, and he was on the varsity as a freshman in track at Princeton.
My younger son — we have six children — four girls and two boys — the younger boy went to
Towson State. He wanted to play football. I wouldn’t let him play football. So, the next thing
that happened, I found out that he was on the rugby team and was president of the rugby team
So he did indirectly what I wouldn’t let him do directly.
Mr. Singer: How many of your kids went through the parochial system?
Mr. O’Donnell: They all went through. They all went through the parochial system
to college through high school. I made a deal with all of them that they would go to our high
school — their mother’s high school and my high school — and they could go to any college they
could get into within 180 miles. So their mother and I could get to them in a hurry. We one time
had four children in college at the same time and two in prep school.
Mr. Singer: We had four in college at the same time. My view was there is no
place to go but up.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, I trunk I may have told you this, but maybe not. They
commented in later years how many hot dogs we had for dinner. And I loved hot dogs so that
worked out well. And the children — one’s a physician, one’s a school teacher, one is an RN, one
is working in a trust department, another one worked for MCI, and one is a senior officer with
GE Panic in Charlottesville. We baptized our ninth grandchild on Saturday.
Mr. Singer: Congratulations. For the ninth time.
Mr. O’Donnell: And we have another one pregnant too.
Mr. Singer: Let’s come back to our — this is kind of a distraction in terms of a
Mr. O’Donnell: When I went to college at Villanova, I talked to Judge Fahy about
whether I should take pre-law or not. And he advised against it. He said I’d be better off if I
went into political science or English or one of the other humanities, which I did. When I got out
of college, Marie Stoll and Elinore Higdon administratively ran Georgetown Law School. In
those days all you did was make a phone call as my mother did to Ms. Stoll or Ms. Higdon, and
they said get your records down and you are in. Everybody, I guess 60 or 70 percent of the class,
was under the GI bill at that time. I was just a kid coming out of college.
Mr. Singer: You were not under the GI bill?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. What I did was I worked two years at Georgetown Prep
coaching all sports — football, baseball, basketball. I went to law school in the day for two years,
and then I’d be out at Prep for lunch, and then I’d coach in the afternoons, and I’d study at night.
Mr. Singer: Why did you do that? Economic point of view?
Mr. O’Donnell: I had to pay the tuition. By that time, my parents were older and
weren’t in the best of health. There wasn’t a consideration. I’m sure if I went to them, they
would have given me whatever I needed. Remember, in those days it wasn’t expensive to go to
law school. You remember that. Now today, I couldn’t do it.
Mr. Singer: I do indeed. I had someone paying for me on scholarship. But it
cenainly was true then.
Young people didn’t come to practice of law with $70,000 or
I got married at that time. At the end of the second year of law
school. So I switched to summer school and nights. I switched from being a law clerk in a law
firm, which was Roberts & Mclnnis, which was an ICC-FCC firm Colonel Roberts was
treasurer of Senator Estes Kefauver’s presidential campaign. It was a small firm with maybe 15
lawyers, so I got to know everybody there and they were very good. Some of my predecessors
were Judge Jim Belson and a couple of other very bright law students. Oddly enough, two of the
law clerks before me became admirals. Next I went to work at National Savings and Trust
Bank. I had previously in college worked summers for the National Metropolitan Bank. I was
always very interested in being a banker which, it turns out, I did later the full circle. A small
group ofus in the early 1980s founded a National Bank.
My brother Bill, the oldest brother, had come out of the war and had gone to
Georgetown Law School and somehow got in contact with Judge Matthew F. McGuire. Judge
McGuire hired him as bis law clerk. Bill, when he left McGuire, went over to the Justice
Department and was first chair in a lot of the prosecutions under the Smith Act cases, all of
which were reversed in the Supreme Court. And he is the brother who at age 40 became a priest.
I had another brother who was also a priest but who died very young at 29. And then two other
older brothers who were physicians — one a surgeon and one a pediatrician.
Next I was at National Savings and Trust. I was working between the Trust
Department and Real Estate Department. I graduated from law school, passed the bar, and I
continued on in my Masters Program in Estate Planning. I always figured I’d be a trust lawyer,
wills, and administration of estates. I put my name at the bottom of a long list for a clerkship
with Judge McGuire. And I knew I wouldn’t get — I think I was third or fourth. One day in
February 1957, I got a call from Judge McGuire, and he said, “Jude, can you come to work for
me in two weeks?” Wow, I was out of there and went to the courthouse. And started in what I
always considered in those days was the courthouse family. And it was. It was unbelievable; it
is a lot different now.
Mr. Singer: Say a little bit more about what that really meant to you and what
Mr. O’Donnell: I was probably the greenest rosebud that ever went into that
courthouse. To this day when I walk in the courthouse from John Marshall Place, I can
remember saying to myself, ”What am I doing here? I am in so far over my head.” And that
was a sincere evaluation, and I was correct.
Mr. Singer: Over your head in what sense?
Mr. O’Donnell: Number one, I didn’t know what I was getting involved in. I
didn’t know whether I had that kind oflegal background, that kind oflegal smarts that you
needed to be a federal judge’s law clerk. There is a certain aura that goes with this. I always met
a lot of law clerks through my brother Bill at approximately the same time and was very much
impressed with their abilities and what they had to say. Of course, all of those were veterans.
Those law clerks were all GI’ s — ten years older than me. What made it even more of a jolt was
in those days, they used to divide up the court’s calendar — criminal, domestic, civil, long
motions, short motions. Judge McGuire had burned out in criminal. He was not hearing any
more criminal cases. Nobody in their right mind who was an attorney would take a divorce case
before Judge McGuire. He really made it difficult. And so the judge was on long motions, and
what he would do is to switch with judges who did not like long motions because those are the
very complicated ones, took a lot of time, rather than take criminal. So my first six months with
Judge McGuire was on long motions, but I really never had any legal writing. I knew how to
research At the same time Judge McGuire was writing a book on the history of the court.
Mr. Singer: There were clerks at that time who were I guess my contemporaries
because my year, 1954 om of law school, many of us went directly into the Army and were just
coming back, as I was, in 1956 from the war. I think Amie Leibowitz, who clerked for
Youngdahl, was that way.
Mr. O’Donnell: I tell you Edgar Bellinger was Chief Judge Laws’ clerk. Tom
McCauley was a law clerk for probably the most demanding judge for law clerks at our time -Judge
David Pine. Sylvia Bacon had just taken over with Judge Matthews. Harold Mesirow
was with Judge Jimmy Kirkland. Paul Mannes was with Judge Alexander Holtzoff. Paul is now
the senior bankruptcy judge in Maryland. His family owned Mannes’ Department Store which
was on G Street between 13th and 14th
• I’m trying to remember who else was there.
After I had been with Judge McGuire for about a year and a half, he pulled me into
chambers one afternoon, closed the door and said, “You know Oliver Gasch?” I said, ”I know
who he is, but I don’t know him I know his name.” ”Well,” he said, “Oliver Gasch asked me at
lunch today if you would be interested in going into the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” I said yes. I
was very excited. It is something I thought I’d never do. Judge McGuire had tried for his last
four or five law clerks to go to the U.S. Attorney’s Office without success.
Two years later I’m on an office task force. There was a strike at The Evening Star
newspaper. Judge Gasch set up a task force to be available for any problems during the strike.
He asked me, ”Do you know why you are in the U.S. Attorney’s Office?” And I said I didn’t
know. He said that in 1938 my father sued the District of Columbia. He had gone to the circus
with his children. He had stepped in a pothole and had broken his leg bad. He was laid up a long
time. And he sued the District. The first trial was a hung jury. During the second trial there was
a difficult question asked of my father. He responded truthfully, the result of which his claim
was dismissed. At the time, Judge Gasch said to himself, ”There is an honest man. If at any
time I can do a favor for him, I’d be willing to do it.”
In the late 1950s, the courthouse chambers had one law clerk, one messenger, and
one secretary. In the summertime — that was a lovely time — Judge McGuire was in recess from
late June until after Labor Day. That was the first year I was married and had just bought a
Judge McGuire usually hired law clerks from the alumni rolls of Holy Cross. My
brother Bill and I were exceptions.
I was in criminal assignment court before Judge McGuire after I left the U.S.
Attorney’s Office. I think it was my first appearance with Judge McGuire. I moved to dismiss a
first degree murder indictment because it named John Smith- – United States v John Smith, first
degree murder, and he wanted to know why, and I said that was not his legal name. And he said,
”What is his legal name?” Abdul Idin Mutlu Nassin — I thought I would always remember the
name. I can’t remember his name for sure. But it was a long four-name Muslim name, and this
was long before Muslims became an item in our society.
Mr. O’Donnell: And he looked down at me, and he knew I was makmg this up and
he said, ‘Well, when was his named changed?” His name was changed by order in this
courthouse, and he asked who signed that order changing that name from Smith, etc. And I said,
”You did, Your Honor.” And he stopped court and he made them go down to the clerk’s office
and bring that order up, and it was signed by him He didn’t react to it at all, but I knew what he
was thinking up there. “He got me” (laughter), but he never reacted; that was not in his
personality to do that. I never tried a case with him because at that time, he was not trying a lot
Mr. Singer: That’s a shame.
Mr. O’Donnell: His career ended primarily in administrative matters and appeals in
the patent cases. It was about that time that Judge Kirkland died. If my recollection is correct, he
had pancreatic cancer. He had been out, and he came back sitting on the bench with a full
calendar. One of my closest friends today, Harold Mesirow, was his law clerk. We were in the
same car pool together. We lived close together. It was a Friday afternoon, and Harold Mesirow
had gone home, and Judge Kirkland let his secretary go home. Her name was Anna Thompson.
I even remember names of secretaries because they were all part of the courthouse fai–nily. The
judge and I were just talking and shooting the breeze. I think over the weekend we learned he
had died. Judge McGuire asked Harold Mesirow to work in his chambers until his tenure as a
law clerk ran out, an example of the courthouse family. There were not so many lawyers in those
days, and the lawyers were well known to the judges, and you could sit them down with them
Second Interview – September 23, 1997
Mr. Singer: Back to your comment at the outset. Talking about expanding
your law firm actually focuses precisely on one of the things that I at least would like to talk
about. And that is the nature of your law firm And that derives from the fact that my own
experience in law firms is that law firms simply grow. They grow and then in some ways they
explode or implode. Now, more recently, we have some experience with law firms actually
going belly-up, although that’s not a phenomenon that I have any direct contact with, although
I’m now mediating a case in which the grief that follows on such an event is perfectly apparent.
But you’ve stayed manageable in size, so that you can kind of reach out and touch everybody,
and clearly if I had to bet, that’s a clear choice you made. But given the nature of certainly
distinguished lawyers in the city, that’s not just flattery, it’s really true. And given the kinds of
activities you’ve been in, is it clear iliat you could have made this firm whatever size you
wanted? Up to say 50 or 100, not big numbers anymore, but-.: Talk a little bit about how you
Mr. O’Donnell: We weren’t that ambitious to go that much larger.
Mr. Singer: But you went to eight or ten, or whatever your number is, and
obviously you’re taking more space?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes.
Mr. Singer: And more space usually means —
Mr. O’Donnell: But not much more.
Mr. Singer: But it’s for people, or for —
Mr. O’Donnell: We are taking over or associating, or whatever the delicate word is
for — we are bringing in three attorneys.
Mr. Singer: At what levels?
Mr. O’Donnell: One will be a partner, and one will be an associate, and one will be
semi-of counsel. He has his own clients. These are people that Randy Norton had been with in a
previous life, and Randy and I have been together for close to twenty years.
Mr. Singer: You said you’ve been together, what does that mean?
Mr. O’Donnell: All right. The law firm started — I came with a lawyer by the name
of Bernie Gallagher who at the time was in his early 60s in 1961, and Roy Thompson was there.
He was 51. Tom McGrail had just left the House Judiciary Committee and the U.S. Attorney’s
Office, and he was about 41 or 42.
Mr. Singer: What year was this?
Mr. O’Donnell: 1961. January 1961. And I was 28 or 29. I had just left the U.S.
Attorney’s Office. At that time, I believed in the adage, and I think it was absolutely true, that
after you have been three years in the government, you have to get out because your family
started getting bigger, and my family was getting bigger. But I saw this as a great opportunity
because there was a decade gap among the four lawyers.
Mr. Singer: You were at the bottom at that age range.
Right. I was :in my late 20s.
And Thompson was 50.
Gallagher was 60, and Tom McGrail was in his early 40s. Mr.
Gallagher died very quickly, within a year or two. So that left Roy Thompson, Tom McGrail and
myself. And we stayed together kind of like that in a regular partnership.
Mr. Singer: When you say a regular partnership, what do you mean?
Mr. O’Donnell: One-third, one-third, one-third after a couple years of the
arrangement. And we stayed together until the latter part of the ’80s. We had as many as two,
maybe three, associates. And then Roy Thompson retired. We brought on another partner who
had a probate practice, but he wasn’t a full-share partner, but he was a full-time lawyer. So there
were four of us. Then three of them retired so that left it with me. And we never had a contract
among us, which is a mortal sin.
Mr. Singer: Jake Stein would think you are tembly foolish
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Well, I think Jake’s right. But we gradually worked in some
younger people to partnership level so that right now there are four of us. Julian Markham and I
have been together since 1975, Randy since law school, other than being a law clerk at the
courthouse for a judge and short-term at the law firm. It was Hugh Lynch’s, McClay, Lynch was
the law firm in town. It is no longer in existence. So, now we have four partners, equal. One of
the gifts that I got from Roy Thompson and Tom McGrail was that we never discussed money,
never discussed who’s bringing in what, who’s doing what, who’s taking too much time. I don’t
know whether you can continue to do that in the way we’re going around here, but up to today,
we are still able to do that. I’m in my mid-60s, Julian is in his early 50s, Mike Hannon and
Randy Norton are in their mid-40s. Now we are bringing in someone who is in Randy Norton’s
age group, which is in the late 40s. He will be a partner. We’ve got some sort of informal
arrangement for the first period, and then when it all works and melds, we’ll work it out. It’s
never been a problem
Mr. Singer: When you say work it out, is it your assumption that you will then,
if there are five of you active, you will each then take 20 percent?
Mr. O’Donnell: It could. And we wouldn’t lose any sleep. We are now going to
make one of our associates who has been here about ten years a partner, but he will be at a lesser
Mr. Singer: That marks the first time you will have broken away from the equal
shares in these two men?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. When we had Hank Harding here, Hank had a lower
percentage, but the three of us had the same, and Hank would be three or four points less than us.
Maybe a little more than that, or maybe a little less, I’m not sure. When you get into major
numbers, then you really have to do all of these things to protect —
Mr. Singer: Major number of dollars or major number of human beings?
Mr. O’Donnell: Major number of human beings. The human element comes in
because in fairness to the young lawyer, the young lawyer has to think he’s carrying a big burden,
and he should be compensated for that. And some of the older lawyers are not carrying the
burden that the young lawyers or the middle class lawyers think they ought to carry — you know,
it’s human nature.
Mr. Singer: Right. Well, let me kind of react to that. You went along for the
first 20 years of your partnership without thinking about that component. Mainly, you were
comfortable, each of you, with the others without looking too hard at how the hours panned out
or carrying your load. Either you knew or assumed and weren’t interested enough really to get
into the facts too carefully.
Mr. O’Donnell: Into the nitty-gritty. And even now, I don’t have any idea — and I
couldn’t care less — who’s bringing in the most money, and who’s working the hours.
!Vf.J. Singer: Could you really care less, or do you kind of know enough to be
Mr. O’Donnell: I know what goes on around here. As a matter of fact, I’m a bore in
that with the associates. I tell them go home, because this is not a sweatshop. There’s a quality
of professional life. The nightmares that you’ve seen and I’ve seen in big firms about the burnout
of young people with young marriages and young families. It has been a disaster, a terrible
thing about the practice oflaw. We talk about boutique firms. I’d like a firm that we’d always -every
day at lunch — all the partners eat lunch together. If you have twelve partners, you can’t do
that. We’re still manageable. And we still go out to lunch every day.
Mr. Singer: Do you go to the same place every day?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. We rotate.
Mr. Singer: What’s your wheel?
Mr. O’Donnell: The wheel around here is the pasta place up at 14th Street near K.
There’s a California Kitchen over at Vermont Avenue. We go to the Old Ebbitt at least once a
week. We go up to a Chinese restaurant on K Street. We used to eat every day together at the
cafeteria at the American Security Building. We were in there, and there was a cafeteria in the
basement that was very good. And because you are a tenant in the building, they are delighted to
have us downstairs. This eating lunch is a spin-off of that, so I’ve been doing that for 35 years. If
you lose the social aspect of your professional relationship, you lose a lot. We’re in a lot of
organizations together. For example the Barristers. There are usually three or four of us in that.
The Counselors, a couple of us are in the Counselors. Mike just got into the Lawyers Club. I’m
a member of the Lawyers Club. There are two of us in that. And we always have a rule of thumb
when we go to all of these professional organizations — we never sit at the same table. In other
words, go sit somewhere else.
Mr. Singer: Who picks up the bill?
Mr. O’Donnell: We do.
Mr. Singer: The fum as a —
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. You can join anything you want to, and we’ll pay the bill.
Mr. Singer: Country clubs included, or just kind of downtown —
Mr. O’Donnell: No, no. Not country clubs. But, for example, I use the Cosmos
Club a lot, and Julian Markham uses the Metropolitan Club a lot. If it’s for a business purpose,
then that specifically would be reimbursed.
Mr. Singer: But the membership —
Mr. O’Donnell: All of the bar memberships, whatever state memberships you are
m. And any other professional, you know, Marching and Chowder Society, you’re a member of
related to the law. You just sign your name to it and assume there’s enough money in the pot to
take care of it.
Mr. Singer: But you want there to be enough money to do this.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes.
Mr. Singer: I gather then the partners aren’t looking at that overhead expense as
a choice between putting it in their pockets and letting the firm carry it as part of the overhead.
Mr. O’Donnell: That has always been a part of the overhead. And again, I’ve seen
this problem come up because somebody has $12,000 in professional organizations a year and
somebody else has $1,500 or $500, and they think there is an inequity there. And of course there
is. But if everybody uses common sense. Well that’s not always so easy either, but when you are
small, you don’t–
Mr. Singer: Have you ever had a real problem with that?
Mr. O’Donnell: The rule of thumb is that if you sign a chit for approval of the bill,
it’s done. I sign 90 percent of all the checks in this firm, so I know what’s going on. And I’ve
never turned one down and don’t intend to. Unless you have enough confidence in those people
you are working with, human nature being what it is, there is a great cross-section of personnel,
backgrounds, and I guess you just have to draw the line on these things.
Mr. Singer: When you as an institution, as a firm, decide that you want to add a
lawyer, how do you make that decision?
Mr. O’Donnell: Among the partners. For example, we have had some questions in
the past about somebody isn’t very comfortable with “person x” and — it hasn’t happened often -but
that’s the end of it. The greater good is that we keep among ourselves civility, and we don’t
want everybody going home and raising hell with the wife or the husband, as the case may be,
here around here is what’s going on there, and so-and-so has done this again. I’m sure there is a
certain amount of Big Brotherism through me, but we have some very strong personalities
around here. I don’t get away with anything. And that’s the way it should be.
And this has been going on for 35 years.
Yes, or more.
In terms of your associates, what are their expectations?
We, years ago, had an associate who we actually let go who we
gave a minor partnership interest, very minor. But it may sound corny, but we’ve never had
enough guts around here to let anybody go. But we finally reached a point that it was for his
benefit. And it’s turned out to be for his benefit. He had to do something else. And he’s done
Mr. Singer: Are you the one who gave him the message?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. We had another one we really had to let go. He was one of
these Department of Justice individuals, a very nice guy, who was the rough diamond who
became rougher in private practice. He’s done very well, but he’s gotten the business. But, for
example, we have one individual now who we are ready this fall to make partner — he doesn’t
know that yet. And we have another associate who will be a partner very soon. She’s very good.
Mr. Singer: What’s her area of practice? Is that a relevant question?
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, she’s an excellent trial lawyer. You know, when we were
starting out, there were no female trial lawyers. None. Zero. And now you go down to the
courthouse and you try cases, and there’s as many female lawyers as there are male lawyers in
major litigation. I do find, and this will smooth out, but for some time — civility in the courtroom
— the males are a little more civil than some of the females. And I’ve probably heard more four
letter words in the courtroom out of females than I ever heard in my life.
Mr. Singer: Not only as witnesses, but as colleagues at the bar as it were.
Mr. O’Donnell: I always cringe because I was brought up at a time where we really
respected the judges. And you are really upset if somebody broke bad in a courtroom which
really never happened that I can recall. And the old-time judges wouldn’t be flattered by that. As
a result of that, they were very good to young lawyers. They protected young lawyers, and they
watched them, and they really trained them Can’t do that now. There are just too many judges,
too many lawyers.
Mr. Singer: Too many cases?
Mr. O’Donnell: Too many cases. I remember someone telling me one time about
Judge McGuire. Judge McGuire and Mrs. McGuire married late and had no children. And we
law clerks became their children. They really looked over us. And you think now that so many
of the judges have so many of the law clerks come back for the annual party. For Judge McGuire
I was responsible for bis painting. The mandatory painting. I don’t know whether I told you this.
Mr. Singer: Never.
Mr. O’Donnell: They had no trouble giving plenty of money. They had a good
artist, and I don’t know whether you’ve seen it down in the Ceremonial Courtroom, but it is a
pretty good likeness — Matthew F. McGuire. When it was done, we had a party up at the
University Club for bis family — bis legal family, which included messengers, law clerks,
secretaries, very close personal friends and a number of the judges from the federal court. And I
wrote a letter to Chief Justice Warren Burger, and asked him if he, on behalf of Judge McGuire’s
legal family, would make a presentation of the portrait at the University Club on a certain date. It
turned out to be Valentine’s Day, and I got a call back from the secretary as soon as the letter
went up, ”Does this include Mrs. Burger?” And I said, “Oh yes, of course. I inadvertently forgot
that.” I was saying m myself, “This would include Margaret Mary, his daughter, and anybody
else he wanted to bring. Judge Edward Curran at that time — he was really very ill — he was one
of Judge McGuire’s very close friends, and I invited him, and he raised the specter that he didn’t
think he’d make it. And I knew that if he had to come down there by an ambulance, he’d be
there. So when I went up there with Judge John Doyle, who was sponsoring this affair at the
University Club, there was Curran already there, seated. Judge George Hart was the Chief Judge
at the federal court at that time, and he received the portrait on behalf of the court from the Chief
Justice on behalf of us. It was a lovely ceremony. It worked out very well. And before it was
unveiled, I made some remarks and always wanted to needle Judge McGuire. I said, “Judge
McGuire, I have seen your portrait. I think it’s sensational, and those people who say it looks like
Judge Curran are wrong.” And it was one of the few times in his life I know he was speechless.
I’d gotten him So, at the end of the evening, we had cocktails, and they all went out to dinner.
At the end of the evening, I thanked Judge Curran for making the effort to come because it really
was an effort. And I said, “What did you really think of the portrait?” And I’m serious, and he
said, “You know, Jude, it looks exactly like me.” So, the needles were still there, but those men
were just very high caliber, and I have great respect for all of them
Mr. Singer: Do I hear you properly as saying that you yourself don’t have that
same km.d of, not the same km.d of relationship, but query — do you have the same km.d of
respect for the office?
Mr. O’Donnell: The office? Judicial office?
Mr. Singer: Yes.
Mr. O’Donnell: We are very fortunate in D.C. There’s no scandal with our
judiciary. There’s only been one judge who has run into problems, and of course they got rid of
him in a hurry.
Mr. Singer: But not in the federal bench?
Mr. O’Donnell: This was in the Superior Court bench
Mr. Singer: Who was that because I don’t remember? He had been
Mr. O’Donnell: He had been Assistant Corporation Counsel in charge of traffic and
he ran into some — it really was a shock. This is the only time. Now, there have always been the
stories of hanky panky and maybe a little more sexual history —
Mr. Singer: I guess. Chuck Richey got —
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, yeah
Mr. Singer: Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows?
Mr. O’Donnell: But there isn’t anybody and I feel, because I’m around there so
often and I’m talking to everybody who’s down there all the time, that there’s no scandal of that
nature, thank God. I sat down at dinner last evening with some lawyers who had been down in
Texas and the nightmares they’re telling about things that are going on down there. And I think
I’ve told you a story about going to the races with Judge Louis Oberdorfer; he said, ”This is
Dutch treat” as if he wants to make sure that there is no question. It’s the appearance rather than
the actual occurrence. So, no, I have terrific respect. Academically we are all human beings. We
disagree with judges, and some judges are just so slow and get nothing done. It’s very frustrating,
especially when you are representing clients who wonder why things aren’t being done. There
are a lot of those. But it isn’t because they’re not ethical. It’s not because they’re doing anything
wrong or bribes or anything.
Mr. Singer: Let me go back to the question about what associates’ expectations
are. When you make a decision and you bring someone in, do you bring people in directly out of
Mr. O’Donnell: We have, yes.
Mr. Singer: But most of the time when you have brought in young people, the
people who have had either some government experience or some practice experience?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Either — and law clerks. Most everybody here has been a law
clerk at one time.
Mr. Singer: What are their expectations in terms of — let me put it this way.
Somebody comes to a firm like mine, and the expectations are written in capital letters by the
chit chat that goes on in law school. Accurate or inaccurate, people who come to large law firms
think they know what’s going on and what they can expect and what they can expect is to work
very, very hard to have the kind of intensive training, and certainly after a year in a reasonably
focused area and in terms of hitting a pot of gold, that is to say, becoming a partner, they think
about becoming partner. They know that the probabilities are small, just on a statistical basis,
and many of them can actually — more readily than the partners can — give you the statistical
answer as to what the chances are. So that, in a sense, that part of it is all laid out, kind of a
common conversation among young people. And in the course of a very short period of time,
they will see at very close range, lawyers departing routinely, out of boredom, out of burn-out,
for a variety of reasons. And that’s become a phenomenon in law firms. Although when I joined
Fried Frank under its much earlier names, I was fifth out of five in Washington, and as we grew
up together, the other four were still there with me for another 20 years. And more had come in.
A small group of us in the Washington office were very much still together. How do you find
young people? What are their expectations? How do you learn — how do they learn what to
Mr. O’Donnell: They’re not going to make a lot of money here.
Mr. Singer: When you say “not a lot of money,” what is that?
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, you know, many of these young people coming out of law
schools, if you look at the big shops they are going with $70,000, $75,000, $80,000, $90,000,
who knows. I’m not sure what we start around here, but it’s probably in the mid-40s, maybe a
little higher than that. But the thing that we do here is we, out of necessity, will guarantee you,
without saying, that you’ll be in the courtroom within the week. If you want a courtroom
background experience, then all of us here, except for Julian Markham who is probate and that’s
another area All of us here have a lot of trial experience, good trial experience, major litigation.
I did Watergate for a year. We represented asbestos corporations.
Mr. Singer: Defendants?
Mr. O’Donnell: Defendants. DES cases.
Mr. Singer: DES cases?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. We did a lot of that. We get called in by insurance carriers
for major problem cases to defend. For example, we’ve done some major stuff for The
Mr. Singer: On libel?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. Kevin Baine, who’s super, does a lot of that for them No, this
is through their carrier, which they have some control over. One of the things was we had that
murder at The Washington Post in the cafeteria We came in to represent the Post on that. That
type of thing. We are doing work in the Psychiatric Institute cases associated with the Angelos
firm We’ve been very active in the tobacco litigation.
Mr. Singer: Who are your clients in the tobacco litigation?
Mr. O’Donnell: The Angelos firm Peter Angelos represents a lot of plaintiffs in
the tobacco cases.
Mr. Singer: I didn’t realize that. I know about the asbestos cases.
Mr. O’Donnell: Actually, it is strange. I was on the other side of the fence in those
cases. When I say “I was” I was, but other people were also involved in that. For example, I got
a call today on that case which involved two men in Rock Creek Park that had a part of the
bridge fall on them and kill them One of these contractors — so they know they’re coming in on
high profile cases. We’ve been involved in pension fund cases, big time on those.
Mr. Singer: That’s what I would call corporate litigation.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. You have to remember these all were intertwined with
carriers with significant bonds and other relationships. One time, and I won’t get into the law
firm, but we had a situation where one of the major law firms in town had one of the most
outrageous conflict of interest situations and would not acknowledge it. And, of course, they
were in the wrong court there in the Eastern District, and out they went. But I’ll always
remember one of the lawyers — and I thought this made sense — and he was accurate, but of
course, it was not a term of endearment saying, “You discount lawyers.” And I thought — that
was me — of course, he is absolutely right because our fees are not in that range. Nobody around
here is going to be charging $300 or $400 or $500 an hour because of the type of clients. Now
there are some that are high priced. But it’s not the general rule around here. I had to laugh I
said, “You are absolutely right. We are discount by your standards.”
Mr. Singer: Was the point he was making that his was not discounted?
Mr. O’Donnell: Derogatory. It was derogatory.
Mr. Singer: That somehow there was a certain right that he required to be engaged
in this conflict — that somehow it was okay if he did it, but it would be wrong if you did it?
Mr. O’Donnell: I trunk he was striking out because subconsciously he knew they
were wrong and they’ve created this monster, and we were talking about millions and millions of
dollars in fees.
Mr. Singer: In fees that they would be required to disagree if —
Mr. O’Donnell: Maybe I better stay out of that one.
Mr. Singer: Why? You control the disposition of this.
Mr. O’Donnell: That was an unusual situation.
Mr. Singer: What’s not so unusual though is for law firms to struggle mightily
to justify instances in which common sense and perception tells one that they ought not to be in
Mr. O’Donnell: Some of these finns have a junior associate, senior associate,
junior partner and a partner. All of them have a piece of the same little motion. Early on in my
practice, I ran into a situation where on a records deposition —
Mr. Singer: A records deposition?
Mr. O’Donnell: You subpoena in the record, say of a hospital or a patient, or a
record of a corporation that the junior associate and the senior associate could have handled. It
had to be handled by a partner. And you shouldn’t even have a records deposition. You make
arrangements for them to produce it and that’s the end of it. But that was going to cost — I
couldn’t believe that they would charge partner’s time for that because this — I would no more be
involved with a records deposition around here. It’s the lowest person on the totem pole. That’s
where they get it. It’s a simple thing. There’s nothing creative. There is a situation going on
now that’s in litigation where the trial took two days. The fees are a couple million dollars. It’s
being on certain grades of lawyers up the ladder. They’re all being charged in where, for
example an insurance company will come to us. A client brought this in to me from — she was
running in a triathalon in Grenada in Spain about two weeks ago, and she brought this back to
me. An insurance company a lot of times will say to us only one lawyer can bill. If you are
going to have someone sit in at trial, or it you are going to have somebody sit in on a major
deposition, you’ve got to get authority in advance. I’ve never had them refuse us. But that is
their control on it. What happens is I’ve been at depositions where there have been four lawyers
from the same firm for the same client there. I don’t know what they are doing there.
Mr. Singer: Have you found that to be the case recently? Say in the last 18
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. I can point to going to depositions where there are a lot of
lawyers from the same firm that are there.
Mr. Singer: Because my impression, although I don’t get involved in litigation,
but I hear the chatter from my colleagues, and I read the newspapers, and it seems to me that the
corporate clients have begun to audit with great care and discipline, and indeed there is a whole
business out there of auditing legal time.
Mr. O’Donnell: You are absolutely correct. And also because they now all have inhouse
Mr. Singer: That’s right. The in-house counsel are people who know what goes
on in these firms because they used to be in them
Mr. O’Donnell: They are on the street. And they understand what’s the reality of
life and they can keep their corporate masters with minimal legal fees. And with a lot of
insurance carriers now, they have in-house counsel who are handling, defending actually a lot of
these cases, but they run into complex litigation and they go outside. That’s where we get
involved. Some of these in-house counsel are very competent and thenjust like everything else,
some are not. We’re always saying if you had in-house counsel, you’re paying for what you are
going to get, but that’s not always fair. It’s not always true.
Mr. Singer: Let’s stick if we can for a bit with the economics of firms such as
yours. Where have your offices been?
Mr. O’Donnell: I first went in the Union Trust Building with Bernie Gallagher and
Roy Thompson and Tom McGrail. We were there until 1975. Then we went to the American
Security Building, right down the street. We were there until about 1991, 1992. And we have
been here in the Southern Building for the last five years.
Mr. Singer: The Southern Building is one of the buildings, if I remember
correctly, that was emptied and gutted and rehabbed completely.
Mr. O’Donnell: That’s correct. Jon Gertenfeld did that. His father was Norman
Gertenfeld who was the rabbi of the Hebrew Congregation. Super people, super friendly.
Mr. Singer: So, you owned 15th Street.
Mr. O’Donnell: I first went to work on 15th Street in 1950 at the National
Metropolitan Bank. I was an employee there.
Mr. Singer: So 15th Street, you must know every brick.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, when I got married 42 years ago, I was working at National
Savings and Trust Bank. It’s just my life on 15th Street.
Mr. Singer: I’m not suggesting it was boring, but what’s interesting is that the
perception of 15th Street as a boundary line, first a boundary line that was breached when K Street
became the center of the lawyers and then, as you know, in the early ’80s, Covington and Burling
decided it would go east — I mean the definition was east of 15th Street — and just kind of opened
up the avenue then so that Fried Frank now of course is between 10th and 11th
Mr. O’Donnell: Williams & Connolly, Hogan & Hartson, everybody went. AB
soon as they cleaned up the combat zone, I think that had the effect of opening up east of 15th
Mr. Singer: The clean-up of the combat zone and the Pennsylvania
Development Corporation activities would have come to nothing if Covington had stayed on 16th
Street. That phenomenon — I was involved in the move of Fried Frank from Watergate, which
people thought we were nuts to go to the suburbs. We loved it down there, but they didn’t love
us enough to try very hard — these were our clients, our former clients — to keep us there. And
we were delighted from an economic point of view that Covington had made it possible to talk
about going to a place where everything was close. For us when we were at Watergate what was
close was National Airport and the Pentagon, not trivial, and you could also get easily to Capitol
Hill just by going around Independence Avenue. But to get to midtown was really a job from
Watergate, and the notion that we could move down here and at the same time the subway of
course was —
Mr. O’Donnell: The Metro has just saved downtown. And eventually all of this is
coming back. All of this.
Mr. Singer: First of all it was the Arena and then the Opera and second
Convention Center, all of which makes Washington really a wonderful place in which to do
Mr. O’Donnell: The thing about Washington is everything is free. All your
museums, galleries, the Corcoran has a contribution, but the Phillips is the only one I can think of
right now that has a fee.
Mr. Singer: To stay with the economics just a little bit more, let me get a little
intrusive. I’m trying to get some sense for what the average over a five-year period would be of
what you as a senior partner would take out of your law firm
Mr. O’Donnell: Because there are so few of us, it depends — some years are better,
some years are not as good and depending on overhead and other things. I probably over the last
five years — about $175,000. That’s taking out, you know. There are a lot of other benefits that
are involved. But taking home, about $175,000 average. And there have been other years that
have been better and other years that have been worse. I pulled out a partnership return from
1963– Within the last month we had a partnership meeting, and we always have those at my
home on Saturday mornings.
Mr. Singer: Out in Montgomery County.
Mr. O’Donnell: Right. I cook the breakfast. We start early and we get things done.
And I was showing them this tax return, this partnership return of $110,000.
Mr. Singer: And that’s 35 years ago.
Mr. O’Donnell: And that was good money. I remember going into the U.S.
Attorney’s Office at $7,500.
Mr. Singer: When I was a law clerk, I forget what I made, but it was less than
$5,000. And the reason which always frosted me was that I went to a law school which gave a
Bachelors Degree, whereas law schools that gave a JD degree, guys got another couple of grand.
Mr. O’Donnell: But you know, Georgetown, when I went there, was a Bachelors
and very shortly after that they went to JD; it was retroactive. But at the time, I got a Masters at
Georgetown, and at that time that entitled me to get over, I believe for the first time, $5,200. But
when I went to work in 1950 for National Metropolitan Bank, I was making $1,800 a year.
Mr. Singer: It’s really quite dramatic.
Mr. O’Donnell: A hundred dollars a week was good money. I was married and
You know what partners in major law firms in this town make.
A lot of my friends make over a million dollars a year.
That’s right. And mid-level partners in those firms are making a
Mr. Singer: And they’re not rainmakers. They’re minders and finders and
grinders. And they’re minders, they’re not finders. They’re not rainmakers. Not only that, but
what I’ve learned is that associates coming into our firm at the entry levels, which would be either
directly from law school or clerking, or some from Justice, although they tend to enter
considerably higher. They’ve solved their problem that I’m about to describe, and that is that
they come out of their educational missions with very, very big debts. It’s not unusual for kids
who come out of law school to us, right out of clerkships to us, to have $70,000 of debt, of
academic debt. Good, solid, hard real money that they have to pay off in after-tax dollars. How
do people who come to you deal with that? We’re not that different.
Mr. O’Donnell: We’re not that different. The lawyer who just came in here a
moment ago, oddly enough had a grandmother die and left her money and she paid it off. The
other two who I know still have debts are paying it off with some sort of reasonable — it may
well be — I look at my son and my daughter-in-law, although we paid a certain amount of my
son’s tuition in medical school, we took care of all of his college education. All of our children,
we paid all of their college education. They still are paying off, and he’s running a practice with
three other physicians, and she’s working as a house officer at Dominion Hospital.
Mr. Singer: She is also a physician.
Mr. O’Donnell: She’s a physician. Board certified. They have a significant debt
that they both are paying off. I’m not sure in her case whether her father and mother did
contribute. I’m sure they did, but even then, as you say, they both have a heavy load.
Mr. Singer: That tends to focus their minds. Being successful in practice, but it
must be — I see it as a weight that young people really carry, and they never are unconscious or
unaware of the fact that that’s something that’s hanging over them And I don’t know what it
would be like in the smaller firm where you —
Mr. O’Donnell: You don’t pay them as much.
Mr. Singer: You don’t. You pay them a lot less. You pay them half, roughly.
Mr. O’Donnell: That’s right. But you know there’s another side. You have this two
percent who go out and do maybe one percent, at the good, high entry level income. Then you
have middle size bears, which we would be, and you should see the people that come through
here looking for jobs.
Mr. Singer: Second jobs?
Mr. O’Donnell: No, first jobs. They can’t get a job out of law school. And they
will take anything. But that’s not what you’re really looking for. And there are some terribly
talented people who we talk to and so many people apply for a clerkship.
Mr. Singer: But that’s a lifetime credential. Every reason one should do it.
Mr. O’Donnell: We have run a lot oflaw clerks through judges who the judges say,
they give us a call and say, you know, what’s he like. If we say this is a keeper, they’ll always
sign them up. That’s a good rapport to have with the judges. A lot of the people who worked
here who have been law clerks along with judges have — we’ve had some problem with getting
them in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but then they go out to the State Attorney’s Office in
Southern Maryland or go out in Virginia in the State Attorney’s Office. Those people that want
to go that route to get the trial experience.
Mr. Singer: What are their expectations other than — one of the genuine
attractions must be that in a law firm like yours, as you say, that within days of coming on board
at this firm, they are in court. And they’re in court not just watching, but they are in court
making their own mistakes with guidance and all of the rest of it.
Mr. O’Donnell: And we ride shotgun on them, of course, in depositions and things.
Within a month of taking depositions. We can’t afford otherwise.
Mr. Singer: Right. But what do you tell them about — what are their
expectations about — becoming members of the firm?
Mr. O’Donnell: We don’t. Because they’ve got to know that we have to be realistic
here. If you are going to be a star, you are going to be a partner. If you’re going to just — it’s a
realistic thing around here. They know from talking to their friends that you could be in a big
law firm for five years and have never taken one deposition and never met a client. Never had
anything filed that didn’t change a hundred times. That’s an exaggeration, but you know what I
mean. On major pleadings around here, such as summary judgments or that ilk, we will go over
it with them, but there are very little changes. Most of them nowadays can write. That’s one of
the things you look at is how well they write, and after they get the rhythm, then they can go on
and do what they want to. They can leave any time they want to, but they don’t leave.
You tell them that.
Mr. Singer: I mean the Thirteenth Amendment has —
Mr. O’Donnell: I mean this is common sense. If you find that your quality of
professional life is not good, then you can leave at any time. We haven’t had that happen. I don’t
know of anyone that has left here who — some have left because we really thought they ought to
move on or go somewhere else, but we’ve just not had that many. The last thing you — none of
us are hatchet people. I don’t know whether you like to fire people or not, we just don’t do it.
Mr. Singer: It was something that always — when I got the short straw, it would
take me literally months, and I wasn’t doing a service to these people by that, but it always took
me months to screw my courage to face them And I always had the same reaction from the
person to whom I was delivering bad news. They’d say, “Gee, I thought you would never get
around to telling me.”
1’1r. O’Donnell: But I want to go back to something you were ta1king about. That
some of my — and these are good friends — these are people I hang out with and are making close
to a million dollars on a regular year. There’s no doubt about a lot of them —
Mr. Singer: You have a lot of friends at Williams & Connolly.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Right. Sure. But I wouldn’t trade what I do for that kind of
money. I’ve got my own shop. I do what I want to do. I have my own reputation. This is selfserving,
but I have a close relationship with my family. I never worked on a Saturday in my life.
I have, but I really never have because I was always gone with the family and kids and doing
things and doing — I would not let Mary Anne, my wife, serve dinner until I got home. That
compensates for a lot. But that’s my style. If somebody else’s style is different —
Mr. Singer: What are the five or six other firms that are comparable to yours in
that regard? You know this town. You know it instinctively because you have lived here a long
time. You’re in the courthouse. You are part of the establishment, not the Arnold & Porter,
Williams & Connolly, Steptoe, Hogan, Covington establishment, but the guts of the practice in
this city. What are the other firms that share your —
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, Hamilton would be one that is somewhat similar. Not
similar but comparable is Martell Donnelly, which is Dick Galiher’s old shop. Jack Mahoney’s
office. Jack is now retired, but it is Roger Heald and Tom Hogan — the other Tom Hogan. They
are in an office that is somewhat comparable to ours. I’m sure I can think of a few more.
Mr. Singer: The size of the firm being under 15.
Mr. O’Donnell: Under 15.
Mr. Singer: And by choice.
Mr. O’Donnell: Maurie Dooney’s office. Although they are now more and more in
Mr. Singer: Does Jake fit into — Jake Stein?
Mr. O’Donnell: Oh, Jake Stein’s shop, sure. Jake’s office because they do a lot of
plaintiffs work. They have a lot more income than we do, but Jerry Mitchell’s up there. High
profile. Jake’s a good example. He knows where reality is. Mary keeps him on the right course.
Mr. Singer: I don’t know his wife.
Mr. O’Donnell: His wife is a bit of a character.
Mr. Singer: But he for a period of time in the ’60s had his office at 1700 K
Street, which was where Fried Frank was then located. He was a sole practitioner, and we talked
with him about the possibility of joining up. And he thought about it, and he finally said, as you
know, he said no way. I don’t want to deal with — it’s not that I don’t love you, I just don’t want
to have to deal with other people in the bureaucratic end of practice. He used to write that
wonderful column to the Bar Journal. And still does. In some ways, I guess I enjoyed it more
then because I hadn’t read 50 or 60 or 100–
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, the thing about Jake is, and of course the reason I like him is,
Jake’s a little older, he is a ”Fifth Streeter” on the highest scale. He tried every intersection
collision case that came along in the late ’50s. He got bis roots there. He certainly got a terrific
amount of notoriety in representing Ken Parkinson in Watergate, but he did a super job.
Mr. Singer: When is that now?
Mr. O’Donnell: That is the early ’70s — ’73. He probably was the cream of the
crop of that because he was very practical. He stepped Kenny back. Got him away from
everybody and tried to isolate bis issues. Somebody was talking about Bob Mardian the other
Mr. Singer: Who was your client during —
Mr. O’Donnell: During Watergate, I represented Mike Acree.
Mr. Singer: Spell his name.
Mr. O’Donnell: A-C-R-E-E. Mike was allegedly the contact at the IRS. He was
one of the — you have the director and you have three people underneath — and he was one of
those three. I think technically he was the Acting Commissioner of the IRS during this time. I
represented Paul O’Brien. Paul was the General Counsel for the CRP. He actually, I guess, was
in bis own way — he was with John Dean every day. So was Ken Parkinson about as much as
Paul. Supposedly Paul was the one that Hunt and all the other ones were talking to, but Paul was
the only unindicted co-conspirator other than Nixon. Chuck Colson’ s aide, Dick Howard. Dick
was in the White House at that time. Strange thing when you look at the White House tapes.
Erlichman was talking to the President that as we’re speaking, “Mr. President, Dick Howard has
gone to see bis personal counsel.” So I thought I’d made the big time. It was something like that.
There was so much going on. Mike ended up being the Commissioner of Customs. He moved up
the ladder. Dick Howard went back to California He was part of the Haldeman group, and
Paul’s been practicing law ever since. Paul’s a super lawyer.
Mr. Singer: He’s out in the west?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. Paul O’Brien is here. He is with Tim Hansen. I don’t know if
you’d remember Hansen and O’Brien. Well, their other office was the drop off in Athens, Greece
for the CIA. Paul had been a part of the company (CIA). He had a funny story to tell. There was
— I guess in the mid- ’50s — there was a train that crashed right through Union Station.
Mr. Singer: There certainly was. It was wonderful.
Mr. O’Donnell: And on that train there was a Russian defector who spoke no
English, and Paul was his contact, and the guy wandered — Paul thought he was dead — the guy
wandered around Washington for a couple days until he found– I don’t know where he was
supposed to have gone. Most of these stories are true, I’m sure, but the Watergate stories were
unbelievable. The coincidences, the overlaps. Martha Mitchell was just as she seemed to be. I
think the finest person in all of that that I was associated with was John Mitchell. I know that
Mr. Singer: Was the finest?
:tv1r. O’Donnell: Mitchell, the finest person
Mr. Singer: That really sounds funny.
Mr. O’Donnell: Mitchell took the sword and he fell, and there were so many other
things that he could have taken folks down with him, and he didn’t. And the other thing, the
fluke when Wayne Bishop asked the fellow from the —
Mr. Singer: Oh, the guy who ran the taping operation?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Alex Butterfield. Wayne Bishop and Don Saunders by
happenstance asked him the question, was there a taping system? Came out of the blue. Those
are great stories.
Mr. Singer: Our firm played a minor role in that. At that time Shriver was the
vice presidential candidate after Eagleton had his medical problems.
Mr. O’Donnell: But that was our time. That was the way things were in those days.
Mr. Singer: That’s right. But we represented the Credentials Committee of the
DNC at the convention. In May of ’72, we had found our doors taped — to our offices — that is to
say, they taped the keeper — somebody did tape the keeper — and you can then get in whenever
you want to get in. There weren’t fancy alarm systems or anything like that. We had the offices
swept because who knew who was doing all this stuff. And the tape came off, and that was the
end of it. And it was only kind of in retrospect looking back that everyone figured out what had
happened. And our offices were of interest because Pat Harris — not the Harris in the firm name,
by the way, but Patricia Harris — the Harris in the firm name was Sam Harris, a securities lawyer
in New York, was, I guess, on the Credentials Committee. It was still Hubert Humphrey around
although of much less import. Max Karnpelman was still very much an active Democrat. It
could have been other Democrats for all anybody knew who were somehow interested in getting
into our offices.
Mr. O’Donnell: Nobody had any money to — Joe Califano originally represented
the DNC in the lawsuit against the Committee to Reelect the President, and they were knocked
out of the box because of a conflict issue. And then Sheldon Cohen went to Maury Dunie and
asked Maury if he would do it, and they would try to underwrite their expenses. There were no
fees involved. Eventually Maury got paid every cent, but that was all gratis.
Mr. Singer: You could do those things then.
Mr. O’Donnell: But before the stay was entered, the DNC had put on the record so
many of these people by means of deposition. It was too late for a lot of these people to protect
themselves because they had already been under oath and some had a lot of problems. My
situation, I was in the Colson dirty tricks end. I was also in the IRS end.
Mr. Singer: The enemies list, so called?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes.
Mr. Singer: I mean people who would be audited for the wrong reasons?
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, allegedly. And then at the other end of it I was involved in
the cover-up. We really ran with some fantastic people, good lawyers. The best thing that ever
happened in Watergate is that it was dealing with Washington lawyers. If they had been all New
York lawyers or all Philadelphia lawyers, it would have been a shambles because the ethics of the
lawyers — they were representing these people, and they kept a tight reign on the situation. They
were representing their clients. I think this story can be told now. This is a true story. I felt that
one of my clients in particular was being abused by the Special Prosecutor’s Office. And Sy
Hersh, Seymour Hersh, called me, and he was very active in those days, and he said, “We
understand that I’m looking into the abuses in the Special Prosecutor’s Office, and I understand
that ‘x’ is getting–”
Mr. Singer: Who was the Special Prosecutor at that point? It was a guy from
Texas who was the last one.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah, he was there. I’ll think of it.
Mr. Singer: Jaworski? It was Jaworski.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Leon Jaworski. And I knew Leon from the American
College of Trial Lawyers. He had a very interesting philosophy which I thought was good that
nobody was indicted unless he personally talked with them and their counsel. To make a long
story short, Sy Hersh said, “I understand that a number of people up there feel they’ve really
been abused by the team, and that your client is one of them, who apparently has been abused.”
I said, ” I’m not doing my client any good by getting involved in this.” I said, ”Whatever you
heard, you heard. I just don’t want to get involved in this at all.” It was fortunate because within
say a month My Lai happened. And there goes Hirsch So that’s the end of that. But basically I
probably had as much fanny time as anybody in the Special Prosecutor’s Office other than maybe
for one case. They were always professional.
Mr. Singer: Did you meet up with Bernie Nussbaum at that point or the First
Mr. O’Donnell: No. I wasn’t — my three areas weren’t involved with them I was
primarily involved with George Frampton who just came on board with the Vice President and
Rick Ben-Veniste and Jim Neal and Jill Volner.
Mr. Singer: Jill joined our firm at that point.
Mr. O’Donnell: She kept changing her name. I lost you on that one.
Mr. Singer: Jill Wine is where she starts out. Then she married Ian Vollner and
that didn’t last, and then she went up to the Bar Association in Chicago.
Mr. O’Donnell: I’ve lost track of her. She was fine. They were doing a job back
there. They had a tough job because they weren’t getting — they really had to dig. Earl Silbert
was super. Earl is wonderful.
Mr. Singer: Does he fit into your group of law firms?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. But I think that his law firm may be breaking up or someone
told me. John was leaving or something — I’ve forgotten. Somebody was mentioning that that
office has had a number of defections.
Mr. Singer: You made a comment in the course oftalking about Watergate
about New York lawyers. Maybe you’d expand on that.
Mr. O’Donnell: I’m trying to think of his name because — the D.C. lawyers are low
profile, and there is a great deal more self discipline. A total indifference to flamboyancy. I’m
trying to remember the fellow that came down from New York, and they would hold press
conferences. It didn’t make any difference what about, he’d have a press conference. And he’d
take a shot at this person or that person. That’s not the style here. It was the style in New York.
It still is. It’s nice to be able to go in and say to a prosecutor, “Look off the record,” and not have
it come back to hurt you or taunt you. And again, the local lawyers knew at least part of the
Mr. Singer: The prosecutorial team?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Don Campbell and Seymour Glanzer and Earl Silbert.
Fortunately, anybody who knew those fellows knew that they were just the highest in profile.
Mr. Singer: And the New York people didn’t know them
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Of course everybody knew Sirica. Sirica was a known thing
and he was a local boy and you had John Wilson, Dan O’Donohue’s cousin — Ross O’Donohue
and Frank Strickler who represented Halderman and Erlicbman originally.
Mr. Singer: Wasn’t Ross a labor lawyer?
Mr. O’Donnell: Ross was kind of a generalist. He did a lot of things that came
across. They were relatives somewhere along the line, the O’Donohues. They were oddly
enough on the same floor as we were on — the fifth floor of the Union Trust Building, and I came
into the office one day and all the police were outside — the FBI. And I said, “Oh Lord,
something’s blown up on Watergate.” And I went upstairs, and Ross was taking the deposition
of the head of the United Mine Workers — Miller, Arnold Miller — he had just been indicted, and
they were going in because Ross was taking his deposition, and they came into O’Donohue &
O’Donohue. As I already said, their offices were on the other side of the bathroom, and Ross
wouldn’t let them in. He had a notice of deposition. That was a court document, too. They
Mr. Singer: And arrested him
Mr. O’Donnell: Also, talk about your paparazzi. 1 came into my office and I looked
in and there was a man in my chair using the phone. It was a reporter. He had walked into my
office and picked up the phone.
Mr. Singer: You got rid ofhim, I’m sure.
Mr. O’Donnell: As quickly as I could, but I also wanted to find out what happened.
Mr. Singer: You used the phrase at one point in describing Jake Stein as kind
of the top of the Fifth Street lawyers. What did you mean by Fifth Street lawyers? This is an
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, the Fifth Street lawyers were a special group of men, and
they are probably as good a group of criminal lawyers and defense lawyers as you would have.
They would handle some civil cases. Some of them had drinking problems. Some of them didn’t
even have an office. They were usually responsible in that they would show up for the trials.
They were always respectful of the court, but they were hustling the five dollars and the ten
dollars driving while drunk and other ones. And then there were the ones — I think of my cousin
Dennie Lane — who handled complicated real estate transactions, and you had Myron Erlich and
Joe Sitnick who were national defense lawyers — they were all on Fifth Street. You had the
Mabel Hadens and the Curtis Mitchells who were flamboyant and effective in the black
community. I knew them all because I started on the counter in the old municipal court in the
U.S. Attorney’s Office — that’s where they made their living.
Mr. Singer: When you talk about the counter, I know what you mean, but let’s —
Mr. O’Donnell: In Building A, now in the Superior Court, the U.S. Attorney’s
Office had its municipal court’s division, and then directly across the hall is the Corporation
Counsel’s traffic branch This was the ’50s. And every, well, 95 percent of all felonies in the
District of Columbia came to that counter, and the counter also served a civic function where we
bad hearings on domestic relations problems — we’d bring people in on assault and of course in
those days — you couldn’t do this no? — when somebody had a request for an arrest warrant, we’d
put ”FDR” on top of it or ”:r-.1opre”. “FDR” was the ”failure to do right” and ”Mopre” was the
same as the failure to do right. It was an alert that an arrest warrant might be questionable. But
we tried to solve domestic things that way by a hearing and, as I said, you couldn’t do that now
because people would object to it. Maybe it’s wrong. But at that time, it seemed all right to do
that. You also got involved with a lot of Fifth Street lawyers in those types of hearings and
things. Many of the people there, like in all professions, were of the highest caliber.
Mr. Singer: The two names that come to mind, not because they are any way
associated with one another, but the two names I always think of in terms of the range of Fifth
Street lawyers — one is Jake Donohue and Kaufman was his partner, I guess.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. And Kronin — Milton Kronin.
Mr. Singer: And way at the other end was — I remember the name, John
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. John and Jean. We were talking about them before and John
may have —
Mr. Singer: She always struck me as a much better lawyer than he was.
Mr. O’Donnell: Another example is Gil Giordano. Gil was across the counter for a
number of years, and then he went and became an entrepreneur. Started a bank, a very successful
bank in Prince George’s County and had a terrific career down there. Tragically he was in some
kind of an automobile accident where he is a quadriplegic now. But this is where the young
lawyers could get started and where the young DA’s — we were all called “rosebuds” in those
days — were just learning. The young lawyers on the other side, they were in trial in the
courtroom The DA’s office at that time — I kind of like the idea. Here you can’t do it. You were
trying jury cases within a month of coming into the DA’s office. Now, they were misdemeanors,
but you were trying them and making big-time mistakes.
Mr. Singer: Now that’s a jurisdiction that the Corporation Counsel’s office now
has. Is that right? A criminal jurisdiction?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. I think the assault cases and gun cases and larceny cases are
still handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Mr. Singer: Felony cases.
Mr. O’Donnell: No. These are misdemeanor cases. These are still handled by the
U.S. Attorney’s Office because they are in the D.C. Code. But it’s handled by the Superior Court
branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Mr. Singer: That’s where people start out in a way, in the U.S. Attorney’s
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. That’s the way — all the young ones generally speaking,
unless you had somebody like Lou Kaplan who knew the appellate world, and you got him right
into appellate. The young D.A. would try misdemeanor cases for a year or so and then be
assigned his first appellate case. One of my favorite stories — I don’t know if I told you about the
Senator Bob Packwood story and Jake Stein– where I had our intern up in his office when he
was representing Senator Packwood. And I had a young intern here who was from Philadelphia;
she was a senior in college. And I took her up to a deposition. We take the interns here
Mr. Singer: You use non-lawyers.
Mr. O’Donnell: Non-lawyer interns. They work here. We take them to all the
court proceedings, and they help out at trials as gofers and things.
Mr. Singer: They are not paralegals. They don’t think of themselves as
Mr. O’Donnell: No. They are just college seniors and we always usually have at
least two. And this one girl — I said, ”Would you like to meet the lawyer who represents Senator
Robert Packwood, because he is the hottest item in town?” And I took her back to Jake, and I
said “Jake, this young lady wants to meet the lawyer that represents Senator Robert Packwood,
and she has asked me to ask you ifby any chance her name is in the diaries.” And Jake says,
”I’ve got bad and good news for you. I’m sorry, her name is only in there twice.” Well, this
young lady went home and that night called her mother in Philadelphia, and her mother thought it
was serious and got all upset and wanted her to come home. But we got that straightened out.
Everybody has sea stories about trying cases with Jake.
Mr. Singer: One of the things that I want to still reserve on if you’ve got the
stamina to try to go another session on this, at least one more.
Mr. O’Donnell: I’ve got a list of the things you and I talked about the last time. We
were talking about major cases.
Mr. Singer: We talked a little bit about the courthouse. The changes in the
Mr. O’Donnell: One of the really nice occasions each year at the federal courthouse
was the memorial service for those lawyers that have died in the previous year. I think the last
one involved Sidney Sachs as speaker. I was involved in it. I chaired it and Sidney was the
speaker. The judges come in. The widows and now the widowers and the families were invited.
They used to hire the piano player from the Roma as well as the violin player, and they were
absolutely terrible, but that’s another story. And then the word came out that the federal judges
would no longer entertain the memorial services because they thought it should be done at the
Superior Court. And that was just so wrong. The prestige of the federal court and all of these
people who were dead and had been members of that bar for a long time are no longer
Mr. Singer: You had to have some excuse for keeping that Ceremonial
Courtroom in any event.
Mr. O’Donnell: Where else during the daytime could the piano player and the
violin player from the Roma play? It was wrong. I think I know who did it, and it was
somebody who had no interest :in the local bar at all and got carried away because he was a
federal judge and that was unfortunate. It’s one of those things that no body will pay much
attention to, but I just thought that —
Mr. Singer: What was your reaction to a judge who in some ways did make a
difference in what went on in the courthouse? Chuck Richey.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, he was innovative. Richey —
Mr. Singer: I ask that because I took his oral history also and —
Mr. O’Donnell: And, of course, if you get him going as you did, I’m sure he has
great, great stories and great, great feelings about certain things and —
Mr. Singer: And he played a role in Watergate also.
Mr. O’Donnell: He was the civil judge in the lawsuit by the DNC against the CRP.
And he eventually entered the stay. But I think that probably the one that really brought that
court into the twentieth century was Chief Judge Laws. He looked like a judge. He started the
new era in that courthouse. I don’t think he was the first chief judge. I don’t know who the chief
judge was when they moved in that building. I think one of the great stories about the
Ceremonial Courtroom, going back to that, is how Chief Judge Stephens of the Federal Circuit
Court of Appeals memorialized himself. Do you know that story?
Mr. Singer: No, not at all.
Mr. O’Donnell: In the Ceremonial Courtroom, you have four statues prominently
positioned on the wall: Hammurabi, Moses, Solon, and Justinian — and Harold M. Stephens,
Judge (HMSJ). You never heard that story? And in the front of the federal courthouse there is a
monument. It cost him $115,000 back when the courthouse was built. It was called the “digit”.
No one that I know of knows why Judge Stephens had it installed. Well, I’m glad that you had
never heard the Harold Stephens story. He is more noted for his opinion in the Argonne
Apartment case on the loss of consortium claim by a woman or a man. There is one other person
that we didn’t touch on — Walter Bastian. I have terrific respect for Judge Bastian.
Mr. Singer: That’s interesting because I know him as WMB obviously because
that’s the way stuff circulated around the Court of Appeals. There were two people who were
really on the right wing of that court. \Valter Bastian was one of them, and \Vilbur Miller was
the other. John Danner was not. I didn’t think he was nearly as good a judge as either of them
He’s a guy who somehow got onto the bench without ever graduating from law school.
Mr. O’Donnell: That I didn’t realize. I know he was a former senator from
Third Interview – Thursday, October 23, 1997
Mr. Singer: Dan Singer sitting in the offices of John Jude O’Donnell to take
Interview #3, recognizing that there were certain problems with interviews #1 and #2. I hope that
with a more elaborate microphone system, we’ll do a little better.
Mr. O’Donnell: Sorry.
Mr. Singer: The microphone system needed some improvement clearly based
on the need to transcnbe, but I hope that this dual conference mike set-up can treat us a little
Let me get in the middle of it.
You can get any place you want.
I think they will pick up from almost any place, and I wanted to
start by going back over some of the things that we may have touched on earlier where in the
transcription I either neglected to ask questions or the tape was difficult to understand. lhe first
was, you never mentioned what your father did. You talked about your mother, the organist.
Mr. O’Donnell: My father ended up being a pediatrician. He was a professor of
pediatrics at Georgetown and had a unique distinction of signing two of my brothers’ medical
Mr. Singer: That’s very nice.
Mr. O’Donnell: And my mother was a college graduate from Trinity College here
and taught high school at BCC or whatever its predecessor was back in the teens.
Mr. Singer: That was back a ways.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah. I think she was teaching. As a matter of fact, it may have
been music or maybe Latin. And my father, his grandfather was the minority stockholder of the
Washington Senators. His name was Jeremiah O’Donnell and the result of which, he sold his
minority shares to Clark Griffith, who eventually took over the Senators, and my father is very
unusual in that he graduated from medical school at age 20. And in order to practice, you had to
be 21. So, in his early days because people wouldn’t go to this very young-looking young man,
he grew a mustache and got pane glass window eyeglasses. Then he ran what was the equivalent
of a MASH-type hospital in World War I. He was in France for, in those days, if you were there
a year, that was a long time, approxnnately a year. That was his background. I don’t know what
Mr. Singer: The reason I went back to that question was because in our
discussion about whether you played ball at college, you mentioned that your father was
sufficiently successful, so that notwithstanding offers of scholarship aid, it was no compulsion in
your family, at your age-level to have any scholarship assistance at all. In those days, if I recall
correctly, scholarships were given out on merit only and not necessarily on the basis of need at
Mr. O’Donnell: They would give scholarships out for athletic ability. And for
Mr. Singer: The other thing that I just want to clarify is the name of the school
your younger son attended. I have it down as Winston State.
Mr. O’Donnell: No. Towson State which is now called Towson University. I think
Mr. Singer: Okay Towson State. It just didn’t come through in that way at all.
Then we, at some point, either in the first or second interview, we touched on the question of, I
mean, to sum it up in one question. Why didn’t you go on the court? On a court? Surely, you
were precisely the type of person who would have been attractive to any judicial selection
committee. And had you wanted to —
Mr. O’Donnell: Oh yes. I wanted to go. But it wasn’t an overriding want. I’ve
always said that any lawyer who doesn’t want to become a judge isn’t much of a lawyer,
especially if you do litigation work or trial. I had two opportunities early on to go on the
Superior Court. The Chairman of the Committee called me on two occasions and discussed it
with me. And to say I was flattered is an understatement, but I knew my wife did not want to
move back into Washington, which was a condition because we had a number of children still at
home at that time, and, you know sometimes, in one case, I was involved in a case and I only
could handle it and that may be an excuse. I also, later on, was approached about going on the
Circuit Court in Montgomery County, Maryland, and I accepted. And I changed my mind. That
was real soul-searching and, you know, I was flattered that the Chairman of the Commission
called me and asked me if I’d be interested. And after I gave it a lot of thought, I said no. I don’t
know why. I would have loved to have been a judge. I enjoyed all the ADR work, being an
arbitrator, some binding in a lot of things for various organizations. I don’t think I can hold my
wife as an excuse.
Mr. Singer: Did you have a sense at all of the loneliness of being a judge?
Mr. O’Donnell: Absolutely not. That had nothing to do with it because I knew that
I was involved with so many t:rungs, that loneliness would not be a problem And I’ve seen that
as a problem with some judges, and if you look at the personality of some, not all, but some of
them, they were lonely before they went on the bench and so there was really not that much
change. You do have to pick your friends a little more carefully, because you don’t want
anything to, when you talk to somebody about something, have any concerns that it might
become public, because without getting into judges’ names, we have had here, Tom McGrail and
myself on a number of occasions where judges have recessed and called us and said, ”You know,
I’ve got this problem; what do you think?” Which again was flattering, and I don’t know
whether we always gave them right advice, and probably more important whether they followed
it or not, but this was not an unusual occasion, say ten or fifteen years ago. We used to get a
number of calls from a couple of judges.
Mr. Singer: When you were describing just a moment ago your ruminations
about going on the bench, you said that, among other things, you were at the time involved in a
case which you didn’t think you could turn over comfortably.
Mr. O’Donnell: That’s correct. That was one time.
Mr. Singer: What was the case if you remember?
Mr. O’Donnell: It was a nasty matter involving an estate, a lawyer, very prominent
lawyer and his live-in was a wonderful woman and the battles among a lot of lawyers, prepared
wills, and the son of the decedent, who was a bad news bear.
Mr. Singer: Who was a — ?
Mr. O’Donnell: Bad news bear. He was always a bad youngster. He actually went
into the Marines and everybody said hallelujah, and he was very gung-ho in the Marines and did
very well for a little while. Then, like so many of those other things, he eventually was out of the
Marines. And I knew so much about it and there were so many people that I knew that were
involved, that I didn’t think there was anybody else who could take over. I’m sure there was. If
I had died or something, somebody would pick up the pieces, but I just — that was very important
to me at that time. And, of course, now I don’t trunk I’ve seen my client in ten years. But at the
time, I thought it was the right thing, I thought, to do. I’m not being modest. But sometimes you
do have these problems with clients.
Mr. Singer: That’s one nice thing about tape-recording these things. While you
can’t go back and erase it, you can control its publication, its disposition. That was one of the
cases. I think, among other things, it would be interesting to whoever it is that gets to read or
hear these tapes to know what you thought were O’Donnell’s “greatest hits” — the most
interesting or the best or the most challenging or, in some instances, the most rewarding cases,
however you want to define them The reward. The kinds of cases that you remember that
you’ve described to your grandchildren. What you did in the great wars if you will.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah. I always had to be very careful at home in talking about
what I did because so much could be taken out of context because of the youth of my youngsters.
If something was in the paper, then of course, they’d ask questions, I’d tell them about that. I
think, in the practice of law, the first, the most exciting year of my life was being a law clerk. It
really gave me tremendous respect for the judiciary. And I was very lucky, because I kept that,
even until today when, not withstanding some, you know — some very awkward situations for
whatever reason, some of them caused by yourseJf. But the second most exciting time was the
year I spent in the Watergate situation, and that was very hectic and I did nothing else almost but
Mr. Singer: Your client again was?
Mr. O’Donnell: I represented Paul O’Brien, who was the Counsel to the CRP, and
Ken Parkinson came in later on and was Counsel to the CRP. I represented Mike Acree, who
was one of the senior members at IRS and I think one time Mike had even been the Acting
Commissioner. I’m not sure of that, but I think that’s right. But he ended up, when I was
involved, he was Commissioner of Customs, and I also represented Dick Howard, who was an
aide to President Nixon, who if not an administrative aide to Chuck Colson, they worked
together while Colson was in the White House. When l was involved with Dick Howard —
Mr. Singer: His initials are AB. Dick?
Mr. O’Donnell: No.
Mr. Singer: That’s somebody different.
Mr. O’Donnell: His initials. His first name is Dick. I think it was W. Richard. He
was still working at the White House so I was fortunate enough —
Mr. Singer: Do you mind if I stop just a second and make sure that —
Mr. O’Donnell: And of course everything I’m saying now is on public record, but
because of the serious conflict of interest, problems, nevertheless, all my clients had no problems
with my representing different individuals who were part of the Special Prosecutor’s Office
inquiry. Well, actually, it was much earlier than that, this was when Earl Silbert’ s group was
involved. And so, I was in the alleged tax returns areas. I was in the —
Mr. Singer: Was this the so-called ”Enemies List”?
Mr. O’Donnell: Uh. That’s your term
Mr. Singer: Okay fine. But that’s —
Mr. O’Donnell: Then I was in the CRP area, and I was in the White House Chuck
Colson situation. And, I had a lot of fanny time.
Mr. Singer: Over at the White House?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. Never at the White House. Always at the Special Prosecutor’s
Office or with Earl Silbert when he was assigned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Recently, in the
press, we’ve been involved with the Kennedy letters, which have now turned out to be false.
And, Seymour Hersh (Sy Hersh) was involved in that. And I always remember what Bernstein
and Woodward would do was you would be on their list of people to check in with They
divided up the list. You had a call every six weeks or so about this or that. But I got two calls
from Seymour Hersh, and he was looking into the abuses of power by the Special Prosecutor’s
Office. I think what he was trying to get across, he felt that they were being abusive and
Mr. Singer: The Special Prosecutor at this point was the guy from Texas?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. It was Leon Jaworski.
Mr. Singer: People like the lady who went to work, Jill Wine Vollner?
Mr. O’Donnell: But no, it wasn’t her. It wasn’t Rick Ben-Veniste or Jim.Neal.
These guys, whether you agreed with what they were doing or the way they handled it, they were
professionals and —
Mr. Singer: Meaning Neal and Ben-Venisti and Jill Wine?
Mr. O’Donnell: But I was in other areas and he thought he was going to do an
Mr. Singer: This is Hersh?
Mr. O’Donnell: Hersh was going to do an investigative article on the abuses of the
Special Prosecutor’s Office. He thought that he had heard that one of my clients had been a
victim of this at which time I made it very clear that I wasn’t going to do my client any good by
discussing anything of this nature with him
Mr. Singer: With Hersh?
Mr. O’Donnell: With Hersh Yeah With me discussing this with Hersh because,
you know, I was trying to keep a lid on and keep the client’s blood pressure down, as well as
mine, and fortunately, that got nowhere, because he went to Vietnam and that was the time of
My Lai. And of course he broke the My Lai situation big time for The New York Times. Should I
talk about the sea stories and war stories and —
Mr. Singer: Sure, that’s exactly what is the most interesting part. That’s what
turns people on in biographies.
Mr. O’Donnell: During the Watergate trial, the last — this is Haldeman, Erlichman,
and Mardian and Mitchell — during that trial, one of my clients was an unindicted co-conspirator.
Was to have been —
Mr. Singer: Public record?
Mr. O’Donnell: Public record, yes.
Mr. Singer: To who? Which one?
Mr. O’Donnell: He was Paul O’Brien.
Mr. Singer: Okay.
Mr. O’Donnell: I always felt very strongly about Paul. I was very surprised they
did that to him But if you know Paul, you can appreciate he wouldn’t be involved with anything
like that. But, unfortunately, he was talking to Dean every day, he was being contacted by this
person and that person all during the time, and they didn’t indict him, and they shouldn’t have,
but I was surprised that he and Nixon were the only two that were unindicted co-conspirators.
But at that time, during the Watergate trial, I don’t know whether you remember what it was like
trying a case in Montgomery County in those days. Each trial would be finished in one day. You
started at 9:30 in the morning, and you would go after midnight. I had a number of those trials.
Well, this was an unusual trial because I was representing the Washington Adventist Hospital,
and it involved a gentleman who went into the Washington Adventist Hospital to have his
shoulder repaired, and he came out with his arm off and his leg in a cast. But, this was not the
worst part about it. This fellow was deaf and dumb and–
Mr. Singer: He was your client or the hospital?
Mr. O’Donnell: No, no. He was suing the hospital.
Mr. Singer: And you were representing the hospital?
Mr. O’Donnell: And the surgeon was being represented by Bill Ehrmantraut, and
the plaintiff no longer could sign conceptually because you need two hands so he had to sign with
one hand each individual letter and also, he was a typograph operator at The Evening Star, so he
no longer could set type. Now this trial, before Judge John McAullife, who eventually went on
the Court of Appeals in Maryland, but he was trial judge at this time, went on for the better part
of two weeks, nmD.ing simultaneously with the ·watergate trial. And I would rush dov;.,.n after
trial every night and I would meet with my client and either Jim Neal or Rick Ben-Venisti or
whoever else was preparing him as a witness. I finally realized that I had a problem here because
I couldn’t be down when he testified. So, I wrote a letter to Judge Sirica and said that I was very
concerned about having my client being called as a witness in that case because of my
unavailability to be there when he testified. So, the next day or so, after the letter was delivered,
Judge McAullife called us in his chambers and he says, ”I’m gonna call Judge Sirica; he’s got
your message.” And we were in the chambers with Judge McAullife.
Mr. Singer: This is you and the plaintiff’s attorney and McAullife?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah And Bill Ehrmantraut. He got on the phone with Judge
Sirica, very politely, and they were discussing the situation. Judge Sirica asked him if he would
release me at a certain time to come down so that Mr. O’Brien could testify, and McAullife, with
a twinkle in his eyes said, ”You know Judge Sirica, you have a very important case in front of
you, but I have a much more important case in my mind, because this involves an individual, and
this is his time to present his case to a jury and it is a very complicated case, and I will not release
Mr. O’Donnell (laughter). So what happened was that the Special Prosecutor decided to close
the Watergate case with the last witness being, oh what was Auggie’s last name, he would testify,
wrapping up the case by showing where the money went. On that Friday, my case was settled.
Mr. Singer: Your case?
Mr. O’Donnell: My case. Around noon time. So I felt like I had an obligation to
appear. My client came with me, and then they had to make a decision whether they wanted to
extend this over say until Monday, and they decided to close it up on a Friday. My client never
testified. So, you know these, everybody’s got war stories, some of them are true, I guess. But
that, I thought, was an unusual episode, and it wasn’t going to do my client any good to testify.
l\rlr. Singer: That’s a real victory.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, you know, when we appeared before the House Judiciary
Committee. Chairman Rodino met with us privately before the session, and the place was full
with reporters — I mean the place was jammed — and he said to me, ”You know Mr. O’Donnell,
my patron saint is St. Jude,” and he had a St. Jude medal. I think it was on his lapel or the back
of his lapel. People don’t believe these things happen, and he said, ”We have a rule — would
you want to have this testimony, (we were blocked in for all day) would you want this to be in
closed sessions?” Obviously, I said, “Oh yes!” as softly and as sophisticatedly as I could. I said,
”Mr. Chairman, I think that is in the best interest of my client.” And that’s what happened. He
was the only witness before the House Judiciary Committee that I know of that wasn’t on
television. So sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good.
Mr. Singer: What is your overall evaluation of the congressional performance
in the Watergate?
Mr. O’Donnell: Super. With the Senate Select Committee —
Mr. Singer: This is Howard Baker and Senator —
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. On different things. The staff came up to my office, and we
sat down and talked with my client and, I’m not sure, it was one or two, but, they asked all the
right questions — a fellow by the name of Saunders and Duane Bishop, from the staff. Saunders
is the one who asked the question about whether there is a taping system in the White House.
Mr. Singer: Is this Saunders who was a judge in Texas?
Mr. O’Donnell: No, he is dead now. But he did make the front page of Parade
magazine. I’m not sure what his first name is, but he asked — I’m blanking on his name.
Mr. Singer: Butterfield? Butterworth?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah. If they had a taping device, and I think he told us that was
the last question he asked in the conference that they had, and they nearly fell over in the chair.
There may have been some suspicions, but I don’t know whether he had the suspicions, he just
asked the question. But they were well prepared. In the case of the House Judiciary Committee,
I thought the staff was very professional. Burt Jenner had come in to work for the majority, and
I’m trying to remember who was from the minority. But all of them talked to us and I never had
the feeling, with my clients or with me, that I was ever being sandbagged. They were really there
trying to learn. Now, different strokes for different folks. I’ve always said, whether right or
wrong, thank God this happened in Washington, with Washington lawyers. If this had been in
New York with New York lawyers, it would have been a circus.
Mr. Singer: Do you think that that’s a piece of the problem that Mr. Clinton
faced with Bernie Nussbaum as his counsel?
Mr. O’Donnell: You know, I never got involved with him in any way that I can
recall when he was with the Special Prosecutor’s Office.
Mr. Singer: No, I meant bringing down the New York lawyer who brought with
him all the baggage of a New York litigator?
Mr. O’Donnell: Oh, I guess I don’t know. I don’t honestly know that much about
that. I know there’s been a lot of criticism, but frankly every time I hear Nussbaum talking, I’m
really impressed. But I do not know an answer to that, one way or another. I’m really tallcing
about the mid- ’70s, and I don’t know whether we in Washington, at this time, are any better than
New York, for some of the things I’ve seen in the present, I’ve seen in the courtroom But in
those days, it was a very genteel bar. The judges really looked out for you and watched what you
were doing. There would be occasions when we’d have conference.
Mr. Singer: To say stop behaving so badly?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah. You know, a lot of people do those things by a joke, ”Hey, I
see you’re misbehaving again” or something like that. There was a parens patria when I was
down at that courthouse. You probably saw some of it. They looked after each other.
Mr. Singer: Implicit in what you are saying is that whatever that esprit was, has
Mr. O’Donnell: Very much so.
Mr. Singer: And that we now hear, all of us, a fair amount of talk about the
need to restore civility in the bar, and although I spend almost no time in the courtroom, it’s
surprising to me, the kind of universal nature of that kind of commentary. And since I’m not in
court, I have no idea what the causes are. I’ll take as true, for these purposes, the accuracy of the
comment. The comment whatever the civility is and collegiality of the bar is broken down and
likewise, one would guess, conversation that goes on between lawyers and judges in the court
room But why has that happened?
Mr. O’Donnell: I think a lot ofreasons why it’s happened. Number one — the
judges themselves, because of the amount of time and effort they have to do with just keeping
their own sanity in their chambers and their dockets, can’t spend a lot of time on this. The courts
are much larger, the case loads are much larger. As you know, when we were down there, the
judges had 2 ½ months off in the summertime.
Mr. Singer: And each of them had only one law clerk.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. But I always remember that at the end of June when Judge
done things, and you know, there was no compensation in those days, and all the expenses you
put out. The first degree cases then, were convicted of first degree, that was death By that time,
the clique in the Circuit Court of Appeals had finally made up their mind that there would be no
more electrocutions in D. C., so that gave you a little bit of relief if you drew a first degree case,
at least you’d be protected upstairs whether rightfully or wrongfully in your opinion. But
nevertheless you’d be protected. I did a lot of that. The way you’d be compensated would be
that the judge on the short motions calendar, I guess, had the list of those people who had
contributed time and who would be appointed as the committee, you never hear that word
anymore, or the administrator in an estate or something of that nature. So that’s the way you
were compensated. It wasn’t much and eventually they gave you an assistant who would do leg
work for you. I didn’t handle many client retained federal cases. In recent years I’ve done some
white collar, but my partner, Mike Hannon, who has more recent experience in the U.S.
Attorney’s Office, handles all of that now. Because, frankly, you have to acknowledge you can’t
be too thin, and I haven’t been keeping up because I’ve got to keep up with the stuff I do every
Mr. Singer: And what is the stuff you do every day?
Mr. O’Donnell: Presently, I had a major lease discussion this afternoon for a couple
of hours. I was down this morning for a short mediation, and I just got a new case where a civil
engineering firm has been sued. That’s today. I’m just trying to think about what I did today.
Mr. Singer: And the building fell down, or —
Mr. O’Donnell: No, no. This is a malpractice. This is a dispute between a former
partner split-up and over property and over what’s going on in the business. He had resigned
from the business, the partnership terminated, and whether he got all of the money out of it he
should have. Then I have another thing that’s going into litigation with landlords here in town
who is having a dispute with his sister over partnerships and ownership of buildings. I am
involved in this while I have depositions most of this week and a probate matter. There’s a battle
among a Chinese family over assets, and I’ll have a couple of depositions tomorrow. But it
involves a disbarred lawyer who’s married to the person represented.
Mr. Singer: These things begin to evolve.
Mr. O’Donnell: So that’s what I did today. That kind of gives you a pattern and
this is not an unusual day.
Mr. Singer: So, these are the kinds of matters that start out as office practice,
and if they go toward litigation or something, take on a more hostile, classically hostile light, so
be it, you’ll work, you’ll go right along with it?
Mr. O’Donnell: Three of the things that I mentioned to you are now in litigation.
Mr. Singer: You’re now one of the senior members of the bar to whom younger
lawyers tum for wise counsel.
Mr. O’Donnell: I think it’s a cross-section around here, because we get a iot of that
because Randy Norton writes in a really super journal four times a year of all the digests of the
cases. He does it for nothing, and he distributes it among insurance carriers and defense lawyers
and anybody who wants it. It’s the ATLA lawyers. And, as a matter of fact, that’s where I’m
going to go after I leave you, the ATLA plaintiff lawyers are meeting with a lot of judges tonight
— some kind of a social. But a lot of people do, they do call you for advice. We call them
Yesterday I had a major problem that I learned about. A client of mine’s PC filed a motion to
bring my client into the case as a third party defendant, and I was not informed of this because
my client is in a medical malpractice case and I represent him personally, and the medical
malpractice lawyer hadn’t told me about it. So I had to go to a lawyer friend of mine who’s in
this case also and represents another defendant to find out what happened. I had to go to him for
advice. What is going on with my client and his attorney?
Mr. Singer: Let me get back, if I may, to the question of civility which is —
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah. And it’s very important to me. I’ve been very active in it.
I’ve been involved in panels.
Mr. Singer: And I know it’s something my prior interviewee, Chuck Richey
was very concerned about. What would you change? What would you do if you were handed
the brief to solve the problem?
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, the first thing I would do is that in the first week of law
school, this matter should be discussed and discussed periodically after that. That it is much
better to catch a fly with sugar than vinegar. If you’re civil in your conversation, it’s amazing
how you can work things out, and that’s what we do. We try to work things out, but if we have
everybody at everybody’s throats. I had a very serious case against an optometrist. I tried it
about two years ago before Judge Dick Salzman. The trial went on for a couple of weeks. My
client had changed the records in his office and I spotted it, fortunately, the first day. But I didn’t
realize how serious it was until they started to talk to experts. But the lawyer on the other side
wouldn’t give up. He wrote what I considered as inappropriate letters. I mean, I finally started
writing back, and saying that I really appreciate your letters, because when this is all over, I’m
going to put these into a book form and call this “the letters from St. Patrick” (his name), and this
is what I wrote him After that, things calmed down a little bit. I recently was involved in a
situation where we represent a major utility in a case where two children were burned worse than
you’ve ever seen. One was burned to death, an adult was burned to death upstairs, and there are
some very, very nasty letters coming from the other side.
Mr. Singer: The clients?
Mr. O’Donnell: Oh yes. And these lawyers I know. Randy Norton, my partner and
I have been handling this case and Randy was getting all this stuff. When he was on vacation, a
couple of nasty letters came, and I finally just wrote counsel a letter, ”I can’t believe you are
saying that he did this.” I talked about civility and why don’t you wait a day before you send
these epistles out? That’s what I said. I think maybe the senior bar, when they see letters like
this, ought to, number one, respond to them What happens in the courtroom, when lawyers get
carried away, the judges have been trained to just ignore it or don’t get involved in the fray, and I
think the judges have to step up and say stop this. Some of them do, but most of them don’t. But
I think it starts in law school. And one of the problems is that there hasn’t been a lot of respect
from the senior bar with a lot of the female lawyers who are now everywhere doing super jobs.
But there is that tension that’s there. Frankly, the only lawyers I’ve ever heard use four letter
words in the court room have been female. And I think this is a part of their — at the end of their
pendulum and eventually this will even out, we don’t need to do things like that and get carried
away. There are some super female lawyers.
Mr. Singer: I know it. It will probably go down as the single biggest
achievement of the Clinton Administration is the number of people like Jamie Gorelick and
others, who are major practictioners in law. Present Attorney General not excepted, she’s
certainly in that group.
Mr. O’Donnell: That’s probably been the biggest change in the law after civility is
the increase in the female attorneys. I know when you went to law school there had to be only a
handful. I know when I went to law school in the ’50s, there may have been three females in the
whole school at Georgetown.
Mr. Singer: I think there were four or five in my class at Yale Law School.
Mr. O’Donnell: And now most law schools are 50 or 51 % females.
Mr. Singer: That’s quite clear.
Mr. O’Donnell: When I was in the U.S. Attorney’s Office the only one that Judge
Gasch, who was U.S. Attorney at the time, permitted to handle a criminal case was Sylvia Bacon,
and she did it only on Saturdays. She would come down to the counter. Sylvia and I were law
clerks together, and she came to the U.S. Attorney’s Office either just before or after me. And
she was the only one who would come over to work on the counter where all the criminal cases
came in, and on Saturday we worked the counter from 9 to 12 or something. To get the people
all arraigned who were arrested on a Friday night and Sylvia would come down and occasionally
she would take a case. And she used to ride in the police cars on Saturday night. I can honestly
say I never did that. So, Sylvia had more guts than I did.
Mr. Singer: At one of our prior sessions I made a note and I wrote down the
initials WMB and WKM and that’s Walter Bastian and Wilbur Miller. We had come to a
stopping point if I remember correctly, and we were either going to reminisce together or you
were going to reflect in particular on Bastian who came out of Washington D.C. who was very
much a local practitioner.
Mr. O’Donnell: And known to everybody in the world. His son practiced law. As
you know he always gave the appearance of a — well, we used to call him a bear. He who
walked like a bear, and he was very quiet, very polite and, if my recollection is right, his opinions
were very short, very seldom he had much to say on the bench, and frankly the local bar idolized
him or loved him or whatever it was. He was one of theirs. I don’t know what his relationship
was with the other members of the court, but I’m sure it bad to be pretty good, but I don’t know
that for a fact. He didn’t get into the local battling between Judge Bazelon and Judge Burger. He
was always courteous to counsel who were arguing. You could always be sure that he and Judge
Miller and Judge Fahy would very seldom ever ask you a question. Fahy probably asked more
Mr. Singer: He did. Fahy was somewhat more active. There was one case that
I remember in which the Court of Appeals was invited to sit as a trial court in a criminal
contempt matter involving your favorite pill, Dolcin, if I remember correctly. It was an FfC
matter. And some U.S. Attorney brought criminal contempt, and I think you try a criminal
contempt of the Court of Appeals ordering the Court of Appeals and nobody on the Court of
Appeals had the first clue as to how one did this. And it was Fahy’ s panel, I guess George
Washington must have been on it because I was somehow involved and I remember it was one of
these painful pills.
Mr. O’Donnell: I remember Fahy did go down one summer, you know some of the
court of appeal judges will go down in July and sit on the trial court. Bastian may have gone
down once in a while but of course he had been a federal trial judge. I don’t remember anybody
else having done that. I don’t know how many of those men actually had trial experience.
Mr. Singer: Well, Barrett Prettyman probably did.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, and of course his family goes back to Montgomery County.
That’s where the Prettymans all came down and gravitated to Washington.
Mr. Singer: Who would have had trial experience? Henry Edgerton was a
professor. Dave Bazelon was — whatever people in Chicago do to get on courts, David did but
via being the Alien Property Custodian. I had the impression Fahy could do anything and
probably had done ahnost anything.
Mr. O’Donnell: Actually, he had a short period of practice when he went out to
Sante Fe, New Mexico. It’s interesting — I was with two of his daughters last Wednesday night.
I hadn’t seen Ann and Agnes in a long time. They are cousins, of course. I don’t think, well,
Edgerton could get wound up once in a while.
Mr. Singer: Edgerton had a potentially quite nasty streak from the bench I
never saw that internally. He was nominally the guy who hired me. He was the Chief Judge
while I was a motions clerk. And I think I mentioned to you the motions clerks sat in the
motions conferences with the judges, after the Thursday morning motions hearings for which the
motion clerks were responsible for the preparation of memoranda The motions clerks and Bill
Secrest would go back and be the conference of three judges and the two motions clerks and Bill
Secrest. Boy, that is pretty heavy medicine for some kid right out of, in my case, out of the
Army, but basically right out of law school — to sit in that conference and learn to keep your
mouth shut and listen.
Mr. O’Donnell: As I explained earlier and we’ll go back into it, there was an
absolutely frightening episode my first day walking into that courthouse. What am I doing here?
But it worked out. To show how things have changed, I think after thirty years to the day, I was
in that courtroom, the same courtroom where Judge McGuire had been my first day there and
Judge Penfield Jackson was presiding, and he is a very good friend. And I made the comment, I
said, “Your Honor,” and I mentioned the fact that thirty years ago today I appeared in this
courtroom for the first time as a law clerk, and Penn looked down at me and said, ”Well, Mr.
O’Donnell, if I’d known this was a fact, I would have baked you a cake.” That shows you how
important or unimportant all of these things were. I don’t know whether you remember Ed
Carey. Ed had been General Counsel for the United Mine Workers. He went down one day, and
it was going to be his last day in the federal court and the judge let him ta1k of his career. It was
one of the better things I’ve ever heard in the courthouse. I always liked Ed. He normally would
say or do anything, but he was a professional lawyer. He was a good lawyer. One of the things
too, you know, we were talking about the fault of the court on certain things. When a member of
the bar would die, Ellen Lee Park, who was in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at that time, and a
couple of other individuals would check with somebody in the decedent’s firm to come down and
petition that the business of the court that day, when the court calendar was over, would be
recessed in honor of the life of, or whatever, of the deceased lawyer, and that happens now
maybe once a year with a judge. And that was common in earlier days. Ellen Lee would call us
and say if you can’t find anybody to come down, did you know the decedent, and I’d look in
Martindale and I’d come down and say something. The one super thing that is done now at that
courthouse is the Naturalization Ceremony.
Mr. Singer: That is held in the Ceremonial Courtroom if I remember. Very
Mr. O’Donnell: And I had a little five-minute canned speech that I would give.
The chairman of that committee of the bar association who handled it would try to get somebody
in the Administration, and he would always at the eleventh hour try, and if he couldn’t, he’d give
me a call so I went down and made my canned speech One time I wa1ked down and I had
forgotten my speech and had to wing it. I told Judge June Green about my golf. It was probably
one of my better ones she said.
Mr. Singer: You have been continually active basically from the beginning of
your career in various bar associations and one of, just looking at the CV, one of the things was
with the D. C. Court of Appeals, that is the local Court of Appeals’ Committee on Unauthorized
Practice. What is the business of that? Unauthorized practice is nothing inadvertent, or is it?
Mr. O’Donnell: The function of that committee was to try and work out problems
so that there would be no way that the Court of Appeals would have to jump in. There were such
things as individuals holding themselves out as lawyers who were not lawyers. We would look
into that. We would look into complaints and these would be complaints that would come in,
complaints of a lawyer holding himself out as a member of the D.C. bar when in fact he was a
member only of Maryland and Virginia. Letterhead problems. There were a lot of folks who
were going before administrative agencies representing clients, and they had no business doing
that. As a matter of fact, one time my wife and I were in Hong Kong, and she was reading a local
paper there, and there is an advertisement in the paper about somebody who alleged to be an
expert in immigration and naturalization law, and I brought it back and looked into it. He was
not a D.C. lawyer. That case has been kicked around for a number of years since I’ve left, and he
has finally gone to jail. But it has taken all this time and he went to jail for contempt.
Mr. Singer: The sin was the advertising or — ?
Mr. O’Donnell: No, the representation. In that committee they have one layman
who was a retired general, an Army general who was very good. But they didn’t have anybody
who had litigation experience and so when we prosecuted, there weren’t many, say three or four
prosecutions, of people who were really battling the system, and it would be presided over by one
of the judges on the Court of Appeals. They would have to write opinions based on that. It was
an active committee. We’d meet once a month at least, and we always had cases going on, and
they would assign cases out to individual members of the committee who would report back. We
tried to work this out, but, you know, nine times out of ten would resolve. One of the cases that
came up was the lawyer that represented General Westmoreland in the libel case against Time.
And he wasn’t a member of the D.C. bar, but he had an office in D.C. He had somehow
alienated Ralph Nader, and I don’t know what that was all about.
Mr. Singer: Probably represented Allegheny Airlines.
Mr. O’Donnell: No, it was something, whatever, what he was doing was in conflict
with Nader’s work. As a matter of fact, Nader called me on the phone one time and protested
why I wasn’t moving quicker on whatever I was supposed to do with this lawyer. Well, the fact
of the matter was this matter was before the committee during the trial, and I wasn’t going to
screw that up. This wasn’t a table-pounder.
Mr. Singer: During Westmoreland?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, right. And I think in the meanwhile he had applied for
admission to D. C. bar on motion or something. It got worked out. But, you know, that is the
kind of thing that would happen.
Mr. Singer: At least in Virginia, I don’t know about Maryland, one had the
sense for many years that the business of the comparable committee of the bar was to make sure
that the title insurance work of local practitioners was protected from the depredations of the title
Mr. O’Donnell: We weren’t involved in that because that was much earlier. That
situation got straightened out in my view.
Mr. Singer: Because my view of it as a real estate practitioner was that I
would much rather deal with the title companies because they were professionals. They knew it,
they did it right, and most of them were lawyers.
Mr. O’Donnell: Were lawyers, had legal background and were members of the bar.
Never practiced but they stayed in their own niche.
Mr. Singer: Some of my good friends over in Virginia thought this was taking
money right out of their mouths. Were very angry because we controlled for a period of time the
law practice. We controlled a fair amount of title business, and we would go out of our way not
to deal with local practitioners.
Mr. O’Donnell: It was an education process for them that you’d rather not have to
worry about. If you wanted to get it done right.
Mr. Singer: And the first time and quickly. And not in competition with
somebody else’s client. But rather I’m paying a premium and I want the work tomorrow
Mr. O’Donnell: This committee has become even more active I think in recent
years, the Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law. Another thing is you can’t have a dual
jurisdiction sometimes which you always deferred to bar counsel which is that lawyers who are
disbarred who are practicing law, and you would have to get them back to bar counsel. The
cross-section of complaints were very unusual, but the thing was that the Court of Appeals
wanted us to take care of these headaches for them. And we did ninety-nine plus times. I think
Judge Frank Nebeker was liaison at that time.
Mr. Singer: In response to my concerns about civility, where you would start in
terms of changes, the first answer was that you would start back at the first day of law school and
put the initial burden on the faculties of the local law schools, indeed any law school, wherever
they were. Just as, for instance, the teaching of legal ethics has now become a serious
undertaking. It is not just when to send the bill, which is what it was when I was in law school.
It was one hour on when to send the bill. And it is a much more serious undertaking now, and I
gather that you would kind of elevate that.
Mr. O’Donnell: Civility among professions. Lack of civility, in sea stories that you
hear, starts with some of the professors. We all have our different personalities in the way we
teach or present and some of the professors were, maybe they should be high-handed, but there
has got to be a breaking-point. There has got to be some leveling off.
Mr. Singer: Can you think of people from the professoriat who are really bad
Mr. O’Donnell: No, I don’t because I’m out of that milieu. I am not involved in — I
used to be involved in some practice courses or come over and be a judge, the usual stuff that we
all did at one time. Really, I’m away from that, but I do hear most of the young people here in
the firm, law clerks and things, three of them I guess are from Catholic University Law School,
and there have been so many changes at Catholic University Law School up since —
Mr. Singer: The school is getting better.
either Kennedy or Johnson.
From our days at Columbus up on 18th Street.
There was a very good guy who was Dean there.
Irv Panzer is over there. Irv is a super professor of procedure.
Very active in the poverty program in a democratic administration,
Judy Areen is down at Georgetown.
Her husband is Dick Cooper who is at Covington. I don’t know if
you remember reading about an accident in August in which a cement truck at Nevada and
Military lost its brakes and flipped over onto their son’s car — he was waiting at a traffic light -and
killed him It was terrible.
Mr. O’Donnell: I don’t know how parents handle it. I think back to my father and
mother. You know, my brother Paul at 15 was a paraplegic and of course in those days a
paraplegic’s life expectancy was limited because they didn’t know how good the antibiotics
which were just coming into effect. Antibiotics didn’t come in until World War II. That would
be a tragedy.
Mr. Singer: You were talking about Judy Areen.
Mr. O’Donnell: I’ve gone down to a number of things there. She seems to, on
hearsay, to have very high marks. I go back to the Dean Paul Dean, and Paul is a very good
friend. I haven’t seen him in a couple of years. I think he did a super job post-war when he came
in to take over from Dean Frank Dugan. I don’t know whether or not you knew Frank Dugan.
Mr. Singer: Paul Dean I knew because I had visions that I ought to learn
something about estates work. And my recollection is that I took a night course at Georgetown
when I first came down here. I think he taught it.
Mr. O’Donnell: He did in graduate school. I took it in graduate school and then he
had it with Joe White who used to be the head of the Trust Department at American Security and
another fellow by the name of Schmidts or something who was with a life insurance company.
Mr. Singer: You spent a lot oftime on the trust side of banking. Did you ever
do any work that one would call straight creditor? Debtor creditor or financing type of
Mr. O’Donnell: Not really. We used to represent National Surety, and they did all
the bond work for Riggs, and these were the type of things when you had bad checks or
employees were stealing money and that type of thing. American Security, Industrial Bank and
other banks on the fidelity bond as well as dishonesty bonds. The type of things on bad checks.
When I went on the street, one of the first cases 1 had involved a woman who was a personal
secretary and confidant of a bishop in the Episcopal Church up at the National Cathedral. He
wasn’t the head bishop, but he was a client of Oliver Gasch It turned out that this woman had
gotten into the bishop by signing his name to checks well over $100,000 which was a lot of
money then. The bishop wouldn’t believe it was not his signature and would not believe she had
Mr. Singer: Oh, she was actually signing his name?
Mr. O’Donnell: And taking the money. So, the FBI got involved, and finally
Oliver went down and registered this with the check and fraud department down at the police
department. I got involved with the FBI on it because we were trying to find out where the
money went. We had to pay this money for the bonding company to the bank which reimbursed
the Bishop. It was over $100,000.
Mr. Singer: Because the bank is liable for the forged maker’s signature.
Mr. O’Donnell: So, I learned that she and her girl friends would go out to the Daily
Double Bingo in Laurel, Maryland, and they’d blown all the money. My recollection is I went
down to Lorton to see her, there was a woman’s jail down there, and the FBI really — usually
they didn’t like to let you know much about their investigation, but they were very good to me in
this one. The bishop had a great problem that this woman, number one, was signing his signature
because he could not see any difference, and number two, that she could ever do anything to
Mr. Singer: So even he thought he’d signed the checks after a while.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, he apparently was independently wealthy, and she had a lot of
his personal —
Mr. Singer: That couldn’t have happened in the Catholic Church because the
priests don’t have property of their own.
Mr. O’Donnell: Up at St. Thomas Church across from Wardman Park — it used to
be an underground church — my parish as a kid, and they had a head usher there who would take
up the collection, and he got into the collection every Sunday. And the police — and he was
charged. The last time I saw him he was taking up the collection at St. Matthews Cathedral.
And I said, ”Holy cow.” We had the problem here in our office. As sophisticated as we were,
we had three former Assistant U. S. Attorneys in the office. An employee had a narcotic problem
and started taking our checks. We didn’t know she had the problem She was a German national
who had come to the States and married an American, excellent office manager, and we couldn’t
believe it had happened.
Mr. Singer: She was converting checks payable to the firm into her own
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. And we found it by accident. You know, these things
happen. She made a mistake. We would never have caught it. We don’t have the world’s
greatest banking —
But you also have an awful lot of confidence in one another.
That’s right. We had confidence in her. What really made it
worse is she had this drug habit, and she was convicted and was given probation and Frank
Martell, a lawyer here in town, called me on the phone and said, “Jude, I’ve got this young lady
here in front of me, and she said she used to work for you, and we are about to hire her. I just
wanted to check with you.” I said, “Look Frank” — I had to be very careful what I said — ”I
think you may want to look at Criminal Action number .. . U. S. versus–” And that is all I said.
I said I’d talk to him about it another time.
Mr. Singer: It presents a real problem
Mr. O’Donnell: That was public record. What was more awkward, and I did
nothing about this, she was in the Payroll Department over at Georgetown Medical Center, and I
had a son and a daughter-in-law who were medical residents at Georgetown at the time, and that
is when I bit my tongue. Talking about the courts, you said you worked with Judge Richey.
Mr. Singer: Worked with him on an oral history.
Mr. O’Donnell: I’ve seen lawyers be uncivil to judges, and it is very awkward for
judges to react, but most of them are trained, you know, they go to judges’ school, and they
handle this. They should do something about it. The lawyers get one bite, two bites, three bites
and then are in trouble. And bar counsel now is really doing a super job compared to what went
on before, not because the prior bar counsels were not adequate, it’s just because of the nature
that is going on here. There was a judge here in town we all loved very much, and if there was
any hanky panky in the probate administration, it went right to bar counsel automatically. I’ve
seen some other judges, two who are not there now, one is dead, who had the same type of
situations and ignored it. That should have been across the street to bar counsel. I’m not
indicting anyone. I’m just saying there ought to be some standard as you can see from the number
oflawyers who are suspended, admonished, disbarred. It’s really being well done, and of course,
part of that is this interchange among all the various bars as what’s going on with their members
who also may be a member of another bar, and there is that list that goes out and then they check
off this reciprocal disbarment concept. I’m going to take a deposition of a fellow tomorrow. I
haven’t noticed it — I’m delighted somebody else has — who is disbarred and who is practicing
law in my opinion. I may be wrong, but we sure are going to find out tomorrow. What happens
with so many of these situations, these disbarred lawyers will go into a law firm or to a friend of
theirs and work as a law clerk. Nothing wrong with that but pretty soon they are practicing law.
They are taking a piece of the pie or they are producing business and they are sharing the fees.
But there is no way that you can control this. It is hit and miss, and if you are lucky, you learn
about it. It goes back to positions, and I talked about this situation where the records were
changed. Every program that is ever put on for physicians and how do you protect yourself, and
we stress don’t do defensive medicine. We stress do the right things to start with
Mr. Singer: These are the programs where you’re teaching a group of
Either you are lecturing or part of a panel for a group and -Usually
sponsored by the Medical Society?
I’ve done it for the Medical Society. I’ve done it for the American
Medical Association, and some other various groups. You don’t always remember their names.
And for staffs at hospitals, part of hospital staffing. You tell them, don’t change the records, and
if you do change the records, write too much rather than too little to explain why you had to do it.
I had a situation within the last ten years where the plaintiffs attorney went out and got the
medical records right away, and the doctor went in and changed the records after the copy had
been sent out. You know, there isn’t an awful lot you can do in those situations. I used to do a
number of the suicide cases — I don’t know if you want me to just keep talking. I prosecuted
suicide cases. I represented families who were — I’ve had three trials involving wives whose
husbands committed suicide.
Mr. Singer: I don’t understand who the players are.
Mr. O’Donnell: All right, the players in one case was NIB, the clinical center; the
husband was in the psychiatric ward on a Sunday afternoon. There were four employees on the
ward and three patients, and he hung himself. That one was tried actually in federal court in
Mr. Singer: They had a suit by the wife against the institution for failure of
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Wrongful death and survivor actions. Wrongful care. Failure
to monitor, negligence, etc. There is a whole litany of these allegations that you throw in and
hope that one– And then I had another one where it involved Sibley Hospital where there was a
patient on the psychiatric ward which is on the top floor of Sibley. I’ve always told my wife that
when I have my next breakdown or any breakdown send me to Sibley. There’s a beautiful view
from the window. What had happened was the design of this was done by either a Chinese or
Japanese American who took LSD and freaked out in order to see what it was with someone who
had a mental problem, what do you need. The door is locked to the psychiatric ward but inside
you have an open ward and then you have a closed ward. And this man had a lot of problems.
He left two small kids and a lovely wife. And he had gotten into the open ward, and he took a
dive out the window. The window turned out to be not much stronger than the glass window you
have in your car. Somebody screwed up. So, John Laskey — I don’t know whether you
remember John — John was representing the hospital, and the first trial the jury Cfill1:e in for
$60,000, which at that time was big money. And it was reversed in the Court of Appeals because
the federal judge at my request gave an instruction on negligence per se for violation of the D.C.
ordinance. So we tried it the second time, and we get lucky in this life, the jury came in for
$160,000, and at that time and for a number of years it was the largest verdict against the hospital
in D.C. Then about seven or eight years later, the Rose case out at Washington Hospital Center
was well in excess of a million. But $160,000 if can you believe that. Today that’s chump
change. You wouldn’t even settle in a case like that. Talking about federal juries after the first
verdict on an Easter Sunday I was on Brookville Road in Chevy Chase in a 7-11 or something,
and a lady came up to me and said, “You don’t remember me,” and I said, ”No, I’m sorry,” and
she said, ”I was on your jury in the suicide case.”
Mr. Singer: This was the $60,000 verdict?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. I said, ”Did you know that our verdict was $10,000 more, but
the foreman got nervous and said $60,000 instead of $70,000?” Then she said, ” I always felt
bad about that case because everybody inquired whether anybody in the panel had ever been in a
mental institution.” The way you handle that is on voir dire to ask if any of you individuals on
the panel, either you or members of your family, have been institutionalized in mental
institutions. You go to the bench and have a quiet conversation with the judge about the ability
to sit on a jury. She said, ”I have been hospitalized a couple of times.” I didn’t tell my client
any of this until after the second trial. A bit ago I mentioned Lou Robins. Lou’s closest friend
for a long time was a lawyer named Charlie lavino. And one night we were out at Charlie’s
house. This was a long time ago and on a Saturday night, and I’m in Charlie’s kitchen talkmg
with his mother. We had a long talk. Monday morning I stand up in front of the jury panel and
she is in the front row. And I asked the usual questions whether any of you know any of the
lawyers in this case. She did not respond. Wow, what an impression I made on this lady. She
doesn’t even recognize me. Either I was drunk or she was drunk. So, I went up and told the
judge. I said, ”There may be some lack of communications here, but I was with her Saturday
night.” So she was discreetly excused for cause. But everybody has these kind of stories.
Mr. Singer: We are getting to the end of the tape — it is an hour and a half — I
would like to have at least one more session, if that’s all right with you, or it may turn out to
make sense to go two more, whatever. And one of the things you might think about for the next
session that I’d like to explore with you is the question of your political life.
Mr. O’Donnell: Has been none.
Mr. Singer: None?
Mr. O’Donnell: I’m a Washingtonian.
Mr. Singer: Yeah, but you live in the county.
Mr. O’Donnell: I may have made one $25 donation to — but I never missed a
primary or election except one. I always vote. I’m registered as a Republican but really haven’t
— and, of course, —
And you vote in the primaries, and you vote in the elections.
My ballot is always split.
That is one of the things I’d like to talk about and think about
whether that’s — how unusual or not unusual that is in terms of the community in which we live.
Mr. O’Donnell: I think I have some answers for that because the major word there
is community. There are just so many other ways to work in the community. You want to call it
a wrap now?
Mr. Singer: Sure. Call it a wrap.
Fourth Interview – November 24, 1997
Mr. O’Donnell: I get up every morning at 5:30, and three mornings out of the
week, I get on my treadmill. At least if my waist line isn’t slim, I try to keep the heart going
Mr. Singer: One of the things that appears in your CV is membership, and
obviously, an active membership in the Barristers Club and the Counselors Club are the things
that — kind of a group of professional clubs. I assume for a long time, only men. I have no idea
whether it’s still only men.
Mr. O’Donnell: No, the Counselors, now, I think Regina McGrannery has been a
president of the Counselors. I don’t think any other female has been. But as we speak, Roslyn
Mazer is the vice president of the Barristers and she will be, probably, president in two years, the
way things are done. This is an unusual phenomenon. This Barrister’s thing is an unusual
situation. It’s a Marching and Chowder Society to a certain extent. In its early life, most of the
judges would have gone through the Barristers. You had to apply for membership to the
Barristers before you were 35, and your name would rest there for about ten years.
Mr. Singer: Why was the —
Mr. O’Donnell: The waiting list and the number of Barristers.
Mr. Singer: I see.
Mr. O’Donnell: Those days are over. In the last five years they’ve changed all of
that. The odd thing was that the Barristers had no Jewish members. And this probably is
important for this talk that Judge John Pratt and Judge Oliver Gasch nominated Alan Kay, and
Alan Kay was the first Jewish member of the Barristers and was a president.
Mr. Singer: The city did not lack for local trial lawyers who were Jewish
Mr. O’Donnell: No, besides David Bress, there was Jake Stein, there was — one of
the images early on was that the Jewish attorneys became plaintiffs’ attorneys. One of the
reasons, in addition to being a lot more lucrative, was that insurance companies did not hire
Mr. Singer: I see. And that was the origin of the Barristers Club. It was the
Mr. O’Donnell: No. The Barristers. A lot of the Barristers — if I brought out the
list here for you, would never go near a courthouse. But I think early on, you have the Barristers,
when it first started out, say, in the ’20s. This was like the creme de la creme. Then the
Counselors were organized for those who didn’t qualify for whatever reason. This was long
before your time and my time. We now have the Counselors organization. Many lawyers are
now in both organizations. But the point I wanted to get to is with the Barristers, because I
always chair or co-chair what they call a caucus, which is nothing more than a selection
committee of who is going to be on the board with cenain guidelines. I have absolutely no
influence on this, but if I were under oath, I’d have a major problem I have tried to get females
into the senior officership without success.
Mr. Singer: The Counselors?
Mr. O’Donnell: The Barristers. The Barristers now is where I have some influence;
and a lot of the ladies have just, for whatever reason, don’t want to move up the ladder there.
And it’s finally that I’ve worked with Roslyn Mazer, so we’re going to break the male dominance
in two years. So we’ll have some females in the position of a president. It’s like the Cosmos
Club. We finally have had a female president of that club. I became a member of the Cosmos
Club after all of the hubbub, thank God. The one very strong thing that the Cosmos Club did
when they admitted women — the first woman they admitted was Helen Hayes. So you can’t do
much better than that. So, that kmd of historically is where the Counselors and the Barristers are.
The Barristers no longer have a group of individuals who are being selected for judges or
considered necessary to be a member of this organization or that organization. Nowadays, as you
know, judicial candidates come through the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the lawyers that represent
the criminals, I’m trying to remember the names of the organizations. (Public Defenders). I
don’t know if that answered your questions, because I’ve rambled so much
Mr. Singer: Well, what I’m interested in is what kind of, what function did or
do these organizations perform? They don’t have turf. They don’t have real estate. They’re not
clubhouses. They don’t have a place to which people can go grab a drink after work or anything
like that. At least not to my knowledge.
Mr. O’Donnell: Neither one does. The Counselors have a monthly luncheon and
one annual banquet. The Barristers have all kinds of functions, none of which are luncheons,
which I think is a major mistake. I think it’s like any social organization you’re a member of and
you’re all lawyers. You go over and you meet a lot of people that you wouldn’t be exposed to.
You always pick up information, as you know, at any of these functions. And, the gossip is
really good, and it’s a “can-you-top-this” situation.
Mr. Singer: A lot of war stories?
?1r. O’Donnell: Yeah. And some of them true. Not all of them They get better
with the passage of time. But the other one that is really, I think, is kind of the unknown
organization is the Lawyers Club. There are a hundred members. They meet once a month at the
Mayflower, and they have a number of night meetings, and this group probably is the more
distinguished group. Maybe 25 of the members are judges from all courts: the circuit courts,
district courts, and some of the Superior Court. There have beenjudges from the D.C. Court of
Appeals. The one thing about this organization, the Lawyers Club, is everybody shows up. You
sit for lunch at unassigned tables. It’s very, very interesting. Usually you don’t get to see any of
the judges socially, but in this environment, they normally come. There’s a certain amount of
geriatrics involved in this, because there are so many senior lawyers who are members, but it’s
social and it’s off the record and frankly, some of the things we’ve heard from certain people that
are really off the record have been absolutely fascinating. I don’t think anybody’s ever used the
type of information they’ve received there.
Mr. Singer: Does it have a public function?
Mr. O’Donnell: No.
Mr. Singer: Does it do anything ”useful”?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. In a way. When you and I started, all the lawyers and the
judges had kind of a 15th Street bent or Connecticut A venue bent. This is kind of that type of
environment. Because nowadays, so many judges never go west of 5th Street for either legal or
other things. The main problem is they were working so blasted hard and there’s no relief. Like
going out for lunch for two hours, you can’t do it. It’s a real major problem None of them have
a useful purpose except that maybe civility, that as a result of being in these organizations, your
relationship with one another is different from somebody you have no — you don’t know who
Is the issue of civility a topic of discussion?
Mr. Singer: We have now talked about three of them The Lawyers Club,
which I, frankly, had never heard of. To me it was a lunch club in the dining room at 555 12th
Street or whatever.
Mr. O’Donnell: And also the one over here.
Mr. Singer: Yeah. But the three of them, Barristers, Counselors, and the
Lawyers Club, you say that the issue of civility is something that people talk about?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, they talk about it.
Mr. Singer: Do they talk about it in a way that suggests that they would change
something, or do they talk about it as the kind of horror tales, again, in the war story category?
Mr. O’Donnell: War story and some horror tales. I think, a lot of times, civility or
lack of civility is a result of ignorance and that we no longer have a tight bar that works with the
judges like when we all started out. They’re just too many judges.
Mr. Singer: That’s something you mentioned with great frequency in the course
of these interviews. But the only difference between lawyers and judges was kind of what you
wore to work. Once you got out of work, you were all very much intermingled. Does the change
in the homogeneity of the connnunity impact on both the nature of the relationships and the
breakdown of civility? High level of candor.
Mr. O’Donnell: I’m sure it does. When it was all white guys, it was all males, and
the pendulum has swung way to the other side now and I think it’s starting to come back because
so much focus is placed on them I don’t think that people realize they’re uncivil sometimes
because this is the way they are in their normal existence.
Mr. Singer: That’s pretty frightening.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, I have been in some law offices. I tell the folks in this office
when they come to work here, you’ll never hear a four letter word. Never. Now I’m not being
sanctimonious, but I’ve been in law offices where I can’t believe what’s going on. I’m talking
about big shots.
Mr. Singer: I understand. Things I recognize.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. These are good lawyers and all of us are under great pressure.
Especially people who are litigators primarily. But there’s one very excellent plaintiff’s attorney
— I have on a number of occasions seen him blow out his clients, and I can’t understand it. Then
you wonder why lawyers, you know, get sued. Because it’s just like a doctor gets sued when he
doesn’t have a bedside manner or TLC.
Mr. Singer: Is there any sense that these three clubs, and I grouped them
together out of ignorance, are seen as valuable sources of clients? Referrals?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. Yes. Referrals possibly. As a matter of fact, referrals, yes.
You get to know somebody socially, and when you’re looking for somebody to handle a specific
matter, a specific client, you know that this is somebody that you have some comfort level in and
you say to the client, this is not what I do, but let me send you over to ”X” and he will talk to you
or she will talk to you and see what you think. And it does. It does give you some first name
basis. None of these, for example, nobody up there is copping clients. So if anybody thought
that was happening, it would really be minimal.
Mr. Singer: Are they by and large, lawyers from firms that are similar to yours
in the sense that they aren’t large mega-firms who represent major corporations and billion dollar.
transactions or– I’m thinking because my own experience is that those firms, firms such as
mine, are very sensitive to the copping clients phenomenon. They really panic.
Mr. O’Donnell: As long as I’ve been in these three organizations, many years, I
know of not once when a copping clients situation came up.
Mr. Singer: But do you think it reflects the nature of the firms? That is to say,
they are not mega-firms whose partners —
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, for example, I’m trying to think of who’s the president of
Counselors now. Steve Zachery. Steve is exactly what you are talking about, the small firm
The president of the Barristers is Stu Gerson. Former Acting Attorney General.
Mr. Singer: For what?
Mr. O’Donnell: United States.
Mr. Singer: Stuart Gerson.
Mr. O’Donnell: Right.
Mr. Singer: But is he with a large firm now?
Mr. O’Donnell: I don’t know. I’m involved with Stuart all the time. But I, you
know, I have never had any work with any firm he’s been associated with. I couldn’t tell you
who — Jake Stein has been the president of the Lawyers Club. Barrett Prettyman.
Mr. Singer: Barrett is with a big firm
Mr. O’Donnell: Right. Jake is with about ten or twelve lawyers. So there’s a pretty
good cross section. I think Tiro May has been the president of the Counselors.
Mr. Singer: Tiro and I were law clerks together.
Mr. O’Donnell: We went to law school together. Tiro and I, I think were the class
of ’56 from Georgetown.
Mr. Singer: That would be exactly right because I was a law clerk after I came
back from New York from two years in the Army with the class of ’54. It fits perfectly.
Mr. O’Donnell: I enjoyed these organizations because of the caliber of people I
associated with. I was always very flattered to get in them, and you always get good information.
It’s amazing. One thing leads to another.
Mr. Singer: Do you have occasion outside of the large encounters to pick up
the phone and call somebody and say hey, what do you know about ”X”?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Absolutely. I had that today where I called somebody that I
didn’t know about a law firm in Boston, but I knew that they were in that area of law and got
feedback. It turned out they’re very good. But you also find little tidbits that are collateral to
what you’re doing and, you know, you can understand something better as a result of getting this
information which relates to your client and what you are trying to do. It’s not everyday, but
there is much of this, and there is a freedom of exchange, and I’ve never found any of it abused,
you know, where somebody says this is outrageous or I told him something in confidence. It just
doesn’t work that way.
Mr. Singer: If you gave these people, I mean, if you proposed in some way to
any one of these groups that they become “active,” that they take on, not a crusade, but there are
things that clearly are going on within the kinds of things that lawyers care about that ought to
stop or there’s something that is not going on that really ought to be happening. Are these
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. You will not have a lack of civility basically among these
groups. Anything that they touch will spread out among the bar, and it’s got to be good. As I
say, the civility phenomenon is really among the younger 40s.
Mr. Singer: It’s not always their fault. I really think some of them don’t realize
Mr. O’Donnell: I have had situations here where I’ve written letters. I think the
term is ‘jocularity,” but I mean, the letters have a purpose. In one situation, I have indicated that
I was going to package all the letters from a certain lawyer here as “The Epistles From St.
Patrick.” I have some beautiful letters and I recently — we’ve got another case going on. The
letters, I said, ”Don’t you think we ought to wait 24 hours before we fax anything?”
Mr. Singer: My lawyers who really know better choose to get off on that kind
Mr. O’Donnell: But you see, the judges — I saw something today that came in. It
had to do with Chief Judge Bill Jones and Judge Edward Tamm You remember, before Judge
Tamm went upstairs to the circuit court, he was on the district court bench, and neither one of
those men would tolerate any kind of nonsense in their courtroom And although Bill Jones was
the most social, personable individual outside of that courthouse, he was tough on the bench. I
don’t know whether you ever tried cases with him This came in today, and it’s some legal
series. Bob Bennett sent this over.
Mr. Singer: Jones and Tamm lecture series. Justice O’Connor. And it was at
Mr. O’Donnell: Montana, apparently.
Mr. Singer: Why?
Mr. O’Donnell: I don’t know. I didn’t know whether Bob Bennett was a law clerk
for either one of them, but you know both of those men, and you don’t have this strong
personality with a lot of judges because maybe they don’t understand, or maybe they don’t have
their two and a half months off during the summer where they can get their juices refueled.
Mr. Singer: My guess is that the dean of this school may well have been a
clerk of some kind.
Mr. O’Donnell: There are a lot of names there I didn’t recognize.
Mr. Singer: As the discussion has developed today, it appears to me that if John
Ferren in his new job as Corporation Counsel were to go seeking pro bono help, as he will do,
he’s already made that overture to some of the very large firms, looking for senior people to
come and supervise younger lawyers either from their own firms or from Corporation Counsel’s
office, that might be well for him to undertake to talk with Barristers, Counselors, Lawyers Club
people to seek their advice, enlist their assistance, and a few other venues that he could
Mr. O’Donnell: It’s certainly available ifhe were to contact the president of each
one of these organizations. This would go out. The organizations have not politicized. This is
something that needs to be done, and the Corporation Counsel’s Office’s big problem is morale,
in addition to money. But morale and support personnel. It’s just absolutely terrible.
Mr. Singer: It’s dreadful. John is just trying desperately to revive that office in
some way. Devastated in the interregnum between Ruff and Ferren with the massive budget
crunch And it wasn’t just that the positions stayed vacant, it’s that they lost the positions which
means a whole new series of bureaucratic actions to restore positions to the office.
Mr. O’Donnell: And I’ll tell you a lot of these folks that I’ve dealt with down there,
they were feeling good about Chuck Ruff.
Mr. Singer: And how.
Mr. O’Donnell: And they were getting enthusiastic again. I mean these were some
of the old-timers that have nowhere to go. He was really instilling in them — I know at least one
who just felt it was the end of the trail, but on the other hand, let’s be realistic — to go to the
Mr. Singer: He didn’t seek out that job in the White House. There’s no way
you can say no. There’s absolutely no way you can say no to that job.
Mr. O’Donnell: Ms. Pinkerton, who you met out there, her husband works with
Chuck Ruff in the White House.
Mr. Singer: Is her husband Ray Pinkerton?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. Rochester Johnson. He’s super. He was up at Wilmer,
Cutler. But, not a lawyer.
Mr. Singer: Not a lawyer?
Mr. O’Donnell: He worked for Wilmer Cutler and when Mr. Cutler (Lloyd) went
over to the White House, he took Ches with him So that’s one of those.
Mr. Singer: I see. He’s basically an executive assistant of some sort.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah. He, I trunk, is involved in the communication office. At the
White House level. Let me add one other thing before I forget it. Tallcing about old timers and
this I talked about earlier. Judge Frank Nebeker, his wife and my wife went out. When Lou
Robins died — he was former acting Corporation Counsel on a number of occasions — he gave
specific orders to his wife that he wanted to be cremated and then a big party at the house. And
the party was held about three weeks ago on a Saturday out at Lou’s house. I went out with
Frank and Lou Nebeker and my wife and then afterwards we went up to the Camus Inn, and we
were seated there at dinner, and we were telling war stories about the old federal court as we
knew it when we were growing up, and a man seated directly behind me tapped me on the
shoulder and said, “You are tallcing about the federal court in Washington?” I said, ‘That’s
correct.” He said, ”Do you know the name of the judge who was involved in some major case
involving the State Department? It may have been Owen Lattimore.” I forgot what he said. I
said to him that I trunk it was Judge David Pine. And he said, “Yes! That’s my stepfather’s
name.” He did not know his stepfather’s name.
Mr. Singer: You get older, you forget things. I have this hard disk in my head
and to put any more names into it, I have to drop some out.
Mr. O’Donnell: You would know your stepfather’s name. And Judge Pine was a
very serious, tough taskmaster as you may recall. And he could blow on the bench like — he was
a solid judge; he had a good record.
Mr. Singer: Do I have a recollection that he was involved in the mine workers
Mr. O’Donnell: Could have been the mine workers case. When was that? ’49?
Mr. Singer: Yeah. ’48, ’49.
Mr. O’Donnell: That was before I got down there.
Mr. Singer: That was before I was there too.
Mr. O’Donnell: But I just remember, just before I got down there, that there was
something going on, and I don’t know whether it was the State Department. I don’t know
whether it had to do with China. Let’s see.
Mr. Singer: That’s Lattimore. There were others. But I think it was Judge
Luther Youngdahl who tried the Lattimore case.
Mr. O’Donnell: You’re correct. It was he. He threw that out.
Mr. Singer: Yes.
Mr. O’Donnell: And my brother, at the time, was, I think, in the Internal Security
Division of Justice and was outraged — not at Youngdahl. Outraged at Justice. Department
attorneys. He was upset because they had not come in with a real strong brief overnight. One of
those 125 pagers that you now pour out of the computer.
Mr. Singer: Now you just push one button and you got it.
Mr. O’Donnell: But it was the case he said made me think of Judge Pine. I
apologize. I interrupted you on some thought or trend you were working on.
Mr. Singer: Well, as I said, it just occurred to me that I might talk with John
Mr. O’Donnell: Let me raise something else too here. I don’t know whether you
know Tommy Brown.
Mr. Singer: No.
Mr. O’Donnell: Tom Brown is a private practitioner, and he has become very
active in elderly law. Tommy’s kind of shutting down, but he’s gotten into it, and he is in all
three of these organizations we’ve talked about and he has solicited from all of them How about
taking a couple of cases here? Or have somebody in the office do that and he has been very
successful. Although he wasn’t interested in the award, he got some very nice award for this
kind of work. But he did accomplish this, what you are talking about, in that way. How many
people responded? It doesn’t make any difference — if you’ve got five, that’s five more than you
Mr. Singer: That’s for sure.
Mr. O’Donnell: One of the things I think with Judge Ferren for the people he
solicited for this purpose, he has to really have an understanding between those individuals and
Mr. Singer: That’s correct, and I have been working with John on this problem,
and it’s always been my thought, and he happens to agree, that the real missionary work has to be
within the office so that it doesn’t come across as a put down or a badge of incompetence on the
people who are going to really be the beneficiaries in the best case of some pretty fantastic
supervision and guidance in the best aspects. And I know that he is working on trying to find the
best way. He has 10,000 other problems each of which has immediacy to it.
Mr. O’Donnell: I don’t think anybody appreciates all the different elements that a
Corporation Counsel has responsibility for. I mean it is a —
Mr. Singer: It is a very large law firm, and there have been some really
wonderful lawyers who have made lifetime careers over there and who to some extent constitute
an institutional memory that is really very important.
Mr. O’Donnel: It is like little Robins or Marty Grossman.
Mr. Singer: Actually, Zielinski has now left.
Mr. O’Donnell: I did not know that.
Mr. Singer: Came as a surprise to me. Apparently, he left and went out to the
west some place. Not even in the neighborhood. Charlie Reischel These are people who really
know what government programs are about, where they fail and how to deal with them in court.
One of the other things that you said right at the end of our previous session which kind of
startled me mainly because of —
Mr. O’Donnell: We better strike that (laughter).
Mr. Singer: It is an important comment because I said to you at the end, ”I’d
like to have at least one more session, and one of the things you might think about for the next
session is the question of your political life.” Your response was basically, ”No, I may have
made one $25 donation, but I never missed a primary election except one. I always vote, but I’m
registered as a Republican, but I really haven’t — always my ballot is always straight”. And you
live in the county so you’re faced with at least two political contexts in which to deal, and you
were in the county during the period of time, Montgomery County, during the period of time
when it would, to me, have been most unusual for any lawyer not to have been co-opted,
dragooned into the Montgomery County political process somehow. I mean, Dick Shifter was
one of my partners, and he was constantly active, but active in t..’)w.g to engage all kinds of
people in the process. And that’s, in fact, I guess when Richey was still a practitioner, he and
Shifter would be nominally on other sides — on different sides because Richey made his bed in
the Republican Party.
Mr. O’Donnel: He was an Agnew man.
He was an Agnew man. He gave at the office.
The Vice-President was his godfather.
And was his sponsor to the court. But how did you manage to stay
immune? Or sterile? Unengaged?
Mr. O’Donnell: It is sterile. Notwithstanding the fact that I have lived in
Montgomery County, Maryland, since 1955, I am still a local Washingtonian. And in
Washington, native Washingtonians never voted, were really segregated from the political
animals. I grew up almost in an atmosphere of the local clique who weren’t interested in politics.
I don’t know, not that politics was a dirty word. We were very indifferent. And that’s earned
over. And, frankly, I haven’t been very interested in politics although I have been active in
organization politics, but never in national politics. And for no reason.
Mr. Singer: Organization, meaning within the Bar Association?
Mr. O’Donnell: Bar Association, yes. And the usual swimming pool. Presidency of
a local and some Catholic organizations. I’ve been on various boards. But I think I may have
been lucky. I’ve slipped through the cracks (laughter). I don’t mean that negative. Because
some might have some good friends that are politicians. I respect them very much, but I, and I
also have my brother Bill, who was a lawyer at Justice; at age 40, he became a Catholic priest
and now is a Monsignor and is now 75 years of age, and I don’t know what is going on upstairs.
But he feels very strongly about certain politicians. He, about 10 days ago, was with some panel
with Governor Glendening. He refused to have his picture taken with Governor Glendening.
Mr. Singer: That’s not a church-state issue, that’s just because he thought this
guy was a turkey.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, we in the church say he’s always upset with Connie Morella,
our Congresswoman, who, I know Connie, she is a very nice person. I know her husband. I
haven’t seen him in years, but her position on abortion is a problem Her husband is a really
good person to have on a legal panel. Connie is on one side of the group, this all pro-life. My
brother Bill was the editor of The Catholic Standard for many, many years and recently gets very
upset when the Standard has a picture of the President giving an award to someone Catholic
really, so —
Mr. Singer: Basically, that the state should stay out of these issues?
Mr. O’Donnell: No, if the paper wants to talk about it, don’t put Clinton’s picture
on the front page, but have the article on the front page but leave the President’s picture out.
Now, my brother called me last week, maybe this is digressing too much, but he called me last
week, and I loved this spiel I heard from him He has very strong opinions. He’s always said if
there was a Pope and him, we’d have a church He’s giving the invocation at the annual lighting
of the Christmas tree down at the Ellipse. And I said, ”Well, the President always lights the
Christmas tree. And he’s going to shake hands with everybody that comes over there. How are
you going to do this?” He said, ”I’ll figure out some way.” And I said, ”No, no, no. You’ve got
to shake hands with him”
Mr. Singer: With the secular leader (laughter).
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah, Pinkerton. I told you about her husband, and I said, ”We
have to do something about this.” She said, ”Well, you know we know all of the photographers
at the White House, and I’ll make sure that they get a picture of the two of them together shaking
hands, and then I’ll have the President sign the copy for your brother” (laughter). That will just
hit him in the old guts.
Mr. Singer: Good luck.
Mr. O’Donnell: Then I got the terrible news about six hours later that it’s the first
time that Vice President Gore is going to turn on the — so this all for naught. But there is
somebody in my family who has his own views of politicians and things.
Mr. Singer: But how do you stay immune from the importunes for money?
Can you just say no?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, I do. I do. I remember one time I gave $25 to the
Montgomery County Republican Party. And that was such an unusual situation, it was, I’ve
always remembered it.
Mr. Singer: It is clear that it stuck in your mind.
Mr. O’Donnell: My wife is not political. We follow everything. We read every
paper that is published on the east coast for the most part. It’s not that great, but we do read a lot
of papers, and she wasn’t political. She was born in Washington, D.C. None of our youngsters
are politically oriented. Although I did have a political science degree in college, which doesn’t
make a lot of sense, I guess, but I think it is my Washingtonian way.
Mr. Singer: You mean inside the District?
Mr. O’Donnell: Right. There is a whole bunch of us never wanted home rule. I
didn’t get on a soap box, but I was indifferent. I realize that home rule is an absolute necessity. I
couldn’t believe it’s gotten so bad, but it will get better. Through the process of time —
Mr. Singer: The opening of the arena, I thmk, will change a lot of things
symbolically and in real terms. Just in terms of the money going into that other decrepit area.
Mr. O’Donnell: And they’re building that zone running up from Hechts north, and
there’s no more space going west to the park. They’ve got to go this way, and there is a big
change in F Street.
Mr. Singer: We’ll have Garfinkel’s back, not as a store, but as something other
than a mausoleum.
Mr. O’Donnell: You know, there was our life — you had Garfinkels, and you had
Hechts on the other end, you had Woodies in the middle, you bad Lansburghs, Kanns, and then
when you really wanted to go to a terrible store and get great bargains, Goldenbergs. They never
swept the floors in Goldenbergs, but my mother would take us in there and we’d get our winter
jackets and things. I think it was up on 7th Street. Maybe up towards Mass. Ave., in that area.
It’s been gone for god knows how long.
Mr. Singer: I don’t remember that name at all and we’ve been here since ’56.
Mr. O’Donnell: Oh, Goldenbergs, probably that would be about the time it phased
out. But the F Street theaters, I talk to people now, and I find that if they are a native
Washingtonian when they can tell me the names of four movie theaters on F Street when we
grew up, and you had the Capital, the Palace, the Metropolitan, and the Columbia And then
those were right down there and we’d just take the bus, the streetcar down and go to the movies.
Mr. Singer: Did you ever do any work for Capital Transit or what was its
name? The guy who stole the city blind.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah, and I’m blanking on his name.
Mr. Singer: Chalk.
Mr. O’Donnell: 0. Roy Chalk. No, I — actually, I did do some work for him Not
personally, but I did do some work for him He owned a warehouse in the later years out near
Catholic University. And I’ve forgotten what I did on that. But it didn’t have anything to do
with D.C. Transit.
Mr. Singer: What are the truly memorable cases that you’ve been involved
with? We talked about Watergate and your relation to CREEP and Ken Parkinson.
Mr. O’Donnell: Paul O’Brien. He was one of the two attorneys. He was there at
the Committee to Re-Elect the President as a private attorney.
I’ve arbitrated a number of lawyer fee cases. I recently had a case, I don’t know if I
told you about this, before Judge Oberdorfer. I’ve done a lot of AID and State Department
Mr. Singer: AIDS the disease?
Mr. O’Donnell: Agency for International Development.
Mr. Singer: Not the plague.
Mr. O’Donnell: No (laughter).
Mr. Singer: Who was your client?
Mr. O’Donnell: These are the Foreign Service officers, AID employees. I’ve had
one rising out of Jerusalem, Cairo, Nepal, Indonesia. This one was out of West Africa And it
was a young, nice gal who married a local African. We tried, we had that case —
Mr. Singer: What’s the case about?
Mr. O’Donnell: Malpractice. The medical officer out in West Africa
Mr. Singer: This is provided by the —
Mr. O’Donnell: The State Department.
Mr. Singer: I met one of those people who was kind of a traveling salesman, a
physician who would be sent out —
Mr. O’Donnell: This was Liberia. And they had a full-time medical officer there.
They had a full-time — I think it was — a psychiatrist, and they had a full-time RN. Plaintiff was
pregnant, and this had to do with the care of the baby there in the first month. Although the
delivery was by a private physician in Monrovia, this had to deal with when the baby got sick,
what was done and not done getting him back to the States. And the baby is still alive now, but
he’s a vegetable. Absolute vegetable. I went out to Denver to see the child and get some film on
the situation, and we tried the case before Judge Louis Oberdorfer. Judge Oberdorfer, I think,
gave us $4.6 million dollars. I never counted a penny. It went back up to the Court of Appeals —
2 to 1 we lost. Of course the Supreme Court wasn’t going to grant cert on the reversal. So, you
talk about high moments and low moments.
Mr. Singer: What was the issue?
Mr. O’Donnell: Proximate cause.
Mr. Singer: Okay.
Mr. O’Donnell: And we felt, in all good faith, and there are two sides to every
story, it was never raised by the government in the briefing. One of the judges on the panel
raised it, I think —
Mr. Singer: On the first appeal?
Mr. O’Donnell: Second appeal.
Mr. Singer: The second?
Mr. O’Donnell: The first appeal had to do with something — I forgot what that
issue was all about. And we lost on that one 2 to 1. But then when we finally got to trial with
Judge Oberdorfer, it was a long trial. This was a Federal Tort Claims Act, notwithstanding the
fact that it happened in West Africa. There was so much that had happened here in the states, so
we could try it as far as state actions, U. S. actions in the United States. And she just raised the
issue of proximate cause which was always —
Mr. Singer: Can’t be far away in any court case.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah, right, and our position was not a slam dunk, but we thought
we made out a case good enough We thought that Judge Oberdorfer had picked up our theories,
and the next thing you know, we lost by 2 to 1 in the Court of Appeals. So that was the end of it.
Mr. Singer: Have we found then the lack of cause as a matter of law?
Mr. O’Donnell: As a matter of law they threw it out. So I give you some I’ve lost,
my low points. I’ve lost some good ones. But we have 12 years — I worked that case for a long
time. And had a lot of horror stories. We had a number of ambassadors who were witnesses to
what was going on.
Mr. Singer: Was there a settlement offer ever from the government?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. I think they — I’ll tell you who handled it — Leonard —
Mr. Singer: Leonard Abramson?
Mr. O’Donnell: No, no. You’re thinkiue of Fred Abramson who was bar counsel.
He’s up at Arnold & Porter.
Mr. Singer: The guy who is now here, it is Leonard something.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah, he handled it and came up with, as I recall it, $200,000, and
that wasn’t in the ballpark.
Mr. Singer: Have you been involved at all in any of the discussions about
contingent fees and how to moderate the enthusiasm of the plaintiffs’ bar for contingent fees?
Basically requiring the defendants to make an offer within a period of time and compensating
plaintiffs’ counsel in much the same way that condemnation counsel get compensated, that is in
the amount, the increment of added value that the lawyers can claim some responsibility for. So
it’s not from the first dollar that they’re taking, but only from the increment over the offer?
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, there are two things that are involved there, but maybe I
misunderstood. But I’m on the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules for the Superior Court and
have been for many years. And you know this offer of judgment from Rule 56?
Mr. Singer: No.
Mr. O’Donnell: They wanted to do away with the offer of judgment. That can only
be done by a defendant and then also have the plaintiff have a right to make an offer of
settlement, so that it would be an even playing field. And that the attorneys’ fees would be
awarded for the plaintiffs if the judgment was in excess of offer of settlement and the same for
the defendants if below the offer of judgment.
Mr. Singer: So that would be based on the increment over the offer.
Mr. O’Donnell: That’s correct. Yes, but about this time last year, there was a lot
more to it than what I am saying now. It really went into limbo because Judge Richard Levy and
Judge Rufus King were kind of spearheading this on the Civil Rules Committee. Talking with
the various plaintiffs’ bar, defendants’ bar, non-interested bar, all had a lot of problems with that.
One reason, the simple reason, was that it would do away with the American Rule, and the
attorney’s fees getting into the equation. At one time I did primarily defense work and
occasionally some plaintiffs’ work. I always thought that the court ought to somehow step in in
these cases where there’s a high — say it is a $6 million dollar verdict, it has 40% or 1/3
contingency, and that there ought to be a — you reach a certain level — ”x” percent, ‘Y’ percent,
going up — and you know that’s been bantered around for a long time and never gets anywhere.
And there are a lot of pros and cons to it, and I thought how this could be handled best is when
you have plaintiffs who are minors whose fees ought to be approved by the court,
notwithstanding whatever contract anybody had. But the judges weren’t interested in getting
involved in this. One of the ways that they could do it, and a lot of judges do, is to appoint a
independent guardian ad litem to review the whole situation to see if the settlement was
reasonable. And then tack on are the fees reasonable. But they don’t want to report back on
whether the independent guardian ad litem of a minor thought that the settlement was fair, and
you can guess there are a lot of times that the guardian comes back and says this is not a fair
Mr. Singer: That it is too low?
Mr. O’Donnell: Too low, yes. And it’s easy to do in a case where liability isn’t an
issue. It’s a little more difficult where liability is an issue. And the judges usually will go with
the guardian ad litem’ s recommendation.
Mr. Singer: Do you have some sense about what a good answer from a policy
point of view would be in say the tobacco litigation where the numbers are staggering?
Mr. O’Donnell: Astronomical.
Mr. Singer: I mean they are mind blowing, beyond anybody’s wildest
Mr. O’Donnell: I have to be very careful about that. Because inasmuch as I am
working with the plaintiffs in the D.C. cases, but you know, there’s gotta be —
Mr. Singer: Those cases will be long gone by the time you —
Mr. O’Donnell: If it significantly reduces the ability of individuals to get a fair
share of the pot, I think the court has an obligation to look into that. But the court’s position is
going to be, well, if ihe legislation doesn’t give us this, if a part of the settlement agreement
which would probably have to be approved by the court doesn’t get into this. I can’t believe
there is a case in this world … that’s worth $500 million dollars. There must be settlements of a
billion and a half–
Mr. Singer: But this is going to be 300 and some odd billion dollars.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, l’mjust giving you — there’s got to be some break-even
point. In the situation, this is public record. In this situation, with a lot of these states who
brought in outside counsel to prosecute their claims, somewhat the same thing as the
Corporation Counsel, Judge Ferren. What these firms do as they put up and guarantee “x”
million dollars to front all the expenses and if they aren’t successful, the firm eats those
Mr. Singer: I bet that was against the rules.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, it was; not any more, but it was. This is one of the problems
— all of this has changed. Forty years ago, these were the rules. And then, if the case is settled,
the first thing that happens is they are reimbursed for the out-of-pocket expenses, and then they
take “x” percent of whatever it is that the state recovers. Now, you’ve got to understand the
atmosphere when these lawyers got involved in it. This was a loose, loose situation they were
taking in hand. They got into it and you know a lot of these things. They have a different law
firm sent to a central clearinghouse,½ million dollars, and they get from say 30 states, you’ve got
Mr. Singer: Quite a bit for a war chest for expert witnesses, scientists.
Mr. O’Donnell: You go out and get all the information and so. There is something
to be said for that type of —
Mr. Singer: For people’s remedy. Poor man’s keys to the court house.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, I know in the situation with this case that is down before
Judge Levy that Judge Levy said to plaintiffs’ counsel, ”If I don’t certify the class, will you
continue on and represent this individual?” And there is no question they will go on with this
Mr. Singer: Oh you will?
Mr. O’Donnell: Oh sure, oh yeah. And they will.
Mr. Singer: This is in the tobacco litigation?
Mr. O’Donnell: Tobacco litigation. And they made it clear that we think there
ought to be a class here that’s certifiable as of now. I don’t know whether you realize what
happened last week or two weeks ago in the Washington Law Reporter?
Mr. Singer: No.
Mr. O’Donnell: They took Judge Levy’s opinion on the class-action motions where
he said that for various reasons, he would not certify the plaintiffs. So they listed the names of
the lawyers for the plaintiffs, and then they listed me as the lawyer for all the defendants. I have
gotten more free publicity out of that, and they did it two days in a row because they had Part I
and Part II, and I’ve been thinking maybe I ought to call Mike Shuckett who makes the selection
of these cases and ask him —
Mr. Singer: He still runs them?
Mr. O’Donnell: As far as I know. I probably ought to look at that. But I am
surprised that the lawyers for the tobacco bar didn’t go ballistic because this was a great ad for
them They won this —
Mr. Singer: Are those Covington people?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Is it Jack Lipson?
Mr. Singer: I don’t know. But I know that Covington represents — it’s called
the Institute, the Tobacco Institute.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah, maybe, but I think it’s Jack Lipson. Because he is a major
Baltimore Oriole fan (laughter). Jack’s very serious
Mr. Singer: Even with Angelos who is a big old plaintiffs’ lawyer?
Mr. O’Donnell: That’s another story. But every time there would be something, a
deposition or something, they always raised Jack. Because he really is sincerely a big baseball
fan, and this probably is his major avocation. I’m sorry, I’m wandering.
Mr. Singer: But you’re wandering only at my suggestion. I was the one who
pointed you off into the contingent fee.
Mr. O’Donnell: I am interested in the fact that my political or lack of political — I
just think I needed that.
Mr. Singer: Obviously you didn’t. But there are all kinds of people in this
town, as you know, who for sure don’t need it and whose practices don’t depend on a
relationship with, in the first instance, congressional people.
Mr. O’Donnell: Going to that subject, and I’ll tell you this also had an influence.
Oliver Gasch hired me for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. And that was back in 1958. And I don’t
know if I talked about this story yet, because Judge McGuire called me in one afternoon just after
lunch and he closed the door to his office. He never did that. And he said, “Jude, do you know
Mr. Gasch?” And I said, ”I know he’s the U.S. Attorney and I know who he is, but I don’t know
him personally.” And he said, ”Mr. Gasch asked me at lunch today whether you’d be interested
in being a law–”
Mr. Singer: The AU. S. A?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, to be an Assistant United States Attorney. And I said, “Oh,
obviously Judge, yes.” Judge McGuire said at that time, and this included my brother Bill who
we talked about earlier, ”I have tried to get my last four or five law clerks into the United States
Attorney’s Office without success.” And the question was did I have any political pull. I said,
”No, I’m just a plain old Washingtonian. I don’t have any political pull, I don’t know anybody
who’ll put in a good word.” And he said, ”If you want to, go up and see him.right now.” And I
went up and saw Judge Gasch and I was hired. And before then, people who were hired in the U.
S. Attorney’s Office were all political.
Mr. Singer: You had to get something called political clearance.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. Oliver Gasch was the first United States Attorney who did
not do that. I don’t know anybody in the office who had — I don’t know what their political
affiliation was and didn’t care. The irony of the story was, how this all happened was, we had a
task force. The Evening Star had a strike. We had a task force in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for
the violence. One evening about 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock at night, we were all in the U.S.
Attorney’s Office, in Judge Gasch’s office, and I don’t know, John Doyle may have been there or
somebody else, but he said, “Do you know why I hired you, Jude?” and I said, ”You know, Mr.
Gasch, I have no idea.” And he said, ”Well, back in the late ’30s, I was carrying the bags for
Chester Gray, who was the Corporation Counsel — ”
Mr. Singer: Correct.
Mr. O’Donnell: ” … and your father had broken his leg at the circus.” I said that I
was with him that night, and this was the second trial. The first trial was a hung jury.
Mr. Singer: 1bis was on your father’s suit against —
Mr. O’Donnell: The District. He came out of the circus and the parking was on a
Mr. Singer: Over near Union Station where the circus was in those days?
Mr. O’Donnell: 1bis was with the tents. You are correct on where the circus used
to be. This was still the tents. This was about 1938. And I was a little boy, and it was my first
circus. My father drove us home and then had to be lifted out of the car by one of my older
brothers. And the break was so bad that he was laid up for about a couple months. In those days,
the doctors went out on house calls and he couldn’t practice. And here he had eight children and
there was no income coming in. So Pop, through Arthur Drury, and I don’t know if you
remember Arthur. Well, Arthur is my godfather, and one of the reasons why I became a lawyer.
But Arthur represented him and in the second trial Gasch was holding Chester Gray’s bag. And
there came a time in the trial where the issue was my father above this street light.
Mr. Singer: Above?
Mr. O’Donnell: The light. The street light. And if he said he was not that far, he
was on District property; if he’d gone beyond the light, he wasn’t. So my father said, and he
knew at the time what he was saying,” thought I’d passed that light. I know I had.” As a result,
the case was thrown out. And Gasch said he was very upset because here’s a man who told the
truth, and he lost out, and all these other people were lying and taking money out of the District.
So he said, “Someday if I can do something good for that man–”
Mr. Singer: That was very nice.
Mr. O’Donnell: It was. I loved my father dearly. My father was my hero. And
that’s how I became an Assistant United States Attorney. So then I told Judge McGuire the
story, and he said, ”Well, I don’t know whether I feel better about that or not. I thought it was
because of me that you got the job.” So that was my political pull.
Mr. Singer: Let me follow up something that is always a hard question to
answer particularly at an interesting level of candor. And that is, as you think back, and you can
imagine certain turning points in your life, somewhere you had no opportunity really to choose.
These turning points were imposed on you by circumstances. But there were times when you
could’ve gone to the left or to the right or proceeded straight ahead. Would you change any of it,
I mean, looking back, retrospectively.
Mr. O’Donnell: You know, I’ve been very lucky.
Mr. Singer: You always made the right choice?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. But luck has to be part of it. Being Irish has to be a part of it.
Mr. Singer: As in luck of the Irish?
Mr. O’Donnell: I really think that to succeed in this life, you have to be a little bit
of ”Pollyannaish,” and you have to be optimistic. And as I say around here, and they all laugh,
and I think it is true, this case will be over this time next year. So when you go home and you’re
not getting a lot of sleep and you’re worried — and you’ve been through this — we’ve all been
through this — you’ve got to say, this is going to end sometime. Let’s go home.
Mr. Singer: Please God.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. That’s right. Will this ever end? And how I hope I don’t
screw this up, too. Most of my brothers, oddly enough, were independent. The two physicians -they
have no partners. They are on their own. My two brothers who are priests, they were kind
of on their own.
Mr. Singer: How could you? It’s an interesting description of the priesthood
which is a support network, unbelievable.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, but you’re really on your own. For example, a pastor is on his
Mr. Singer: That’s true. Talk about one on one.
Mr. O’Donnell: You may be at the chancery and there’s some oversight. My
brother Jim who died very young was a priest, was very independent, got a lot of things done and
on bis own. When my son was making some decisions about practicing medicine, one of my
physician brothers said, “Look, you want to do this on your own. You don’t want to be beholden
to anybody. If anything good happens it’s yours, if anything bad happens, it’s your
responsibility.” And he’s doing it that way; he’s brought in some physicians, but he’s doing it on
Mr. Singer: You must have some interesting reactions to the changes in the
nature of medical practice in the last few years?
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, I think of my father. I think I told you, my father got out of
medical school at 20, and he was in World War I in a ”MASH” type of hospital. And the
antibiotics were just coming in as he was slowing down as a physician . The difference in the
medicine that my father —
Mr. Singer: I was thinking more in terms of the organization of medicine with
all kinds of bureaucratic overlay in telling the doctors, essentially being between the doctors and
patients in terms of what constituted acceptable medical practice.
Mr. O’Donnell: And yet, so many physicians get out early. There are a lot of
physicians that we don’t know about who drop out.
Mr. Singer: What do they do?
Mr. O’Donnell: They all go somewhere and get into an HMO and then do a thirtyhour-
a-week job and say, ”I can live on $75,000 or $80,000 a year. I don’t need all of this grief,”
and then they go home. A lot of surgeons, for example, if you go and look at your roster of
anesthesiologists, you will find that a lot of them are trained as surgeons. It used to be a major
problem with some of the female surgeons, not so much that they couldn’t get the work. Even
though they are qualified, they flip over and become anesthesiologists. Like dermatology now.
It is very difficult unless you’re a female to get into dermatology. This is something they can
raise their families and be super dermatologists. Because of the hours and it’s not life threatening
and with the new drugs, a good prescription will take care of a lot of skin problems. But then
you have the guys who are really terrific — the neurosurgeons and the obstetricians who have all
kinds of problems. They are the major ones. You don’t sue a pediatrician very often. Very
Mr. Singer: When we wa1ked in, your colleague Brooke Pinkerton said
something to me about your being a doctor, and she goes to you for medical advice. What
underlies that comment?
Mr. O’Donnell: When I grew up, we always sat down at the dinner table every
night all the time. My mother, father and the eight children. My father being the physician and
his two sons going through medical school or pre-med, a tremendous amount of medicine was
discussed at the table. And my brother Hugh was pre-med, and he decided to do some other -that
was my environment. And my father’s office was in the house.
Mr. Singer: Where did you live in the District?
Mr. O’Donnell: 28th and Woodley Road. Right across the street from Wardman
Park. And the house is still there. My family still lives there. But, when I told you that I was in,
I got a graduate degree in estate planning because I wanted to be in trusts and estates. But after
that, when I was in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I took a course with Dave Bress and Paul Canter
— Paul Canter was a physician in medical malpractice. And then when I went on the street with
private practice, we started getting some medical malpractice. So I used to go to seminars and
with what I knew, I got involved with it. I like it. But of course, in those days, you took
whatever came to the door.
Mr. Singer: Were you generally on the defense side or on the plaintiffs’ side?
Mr. O’Donnell: Primarily on the defense side and did plaintiffs’ work like the
suicide. I did a suicide trial over in the federal court in Baltimore. Once you try a suicide case
everyone thinks you’re a suicide expert. This is what happened if you can believe it. There were
three patients in the psychiatric ward, and there were four employees there on a Sunday, four
watching three and my man tragically committed suicide.
Mr. Singer: I didn’t know that NIH had kind of — NIMH was there.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, and this happened in the Clinical Center. So we tried that
case and we won. I had some other malpractice cases for the plaintiffs, but primarily for the
defense. A lot of what I do today is I ride shotgun on insurance company lawyers who represent
physicians who are clients of mine and that’s very interesting.
Mr. Singer: One of these cases you actually talked about last time. Angry was
not quite the word, but you were quite clearly serious about the lack of communication. The
insurance carrier lawyer wasn’t telling you what was happening to someone you thought of as
your client, the physician. That clearly generated some energy.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, it did. What you normally want to do when you’re
monitoring a case is to make your own judgments and get copies of all the pleadings, relevant
depositions and get into them and look into them well, and make sure everything is going
smoothly, and then somewhere down the line, a decision’s got to be made whether or not a case
can be settled. Settling a malpractice case is a very sensitive matter now because you’ve got to
send all this information out which is —
Mr. Singer: To a central registry some place?
Mr. O’Donnell: And I still don’t have —
Mr. Singer: In that case.
Mr. O’Donnell: In that case. They papered me with some stuff and then they
talked about settlement and I — when I represent somebody in a malpractice case, I want them to
have personal counsel number one. I want the personal counsel to be at the depositions, to get
everything in the file.
Mr. Singer: This is when the insurance companies hired you?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, right. And I did things differently, but from the insurance
company’s point of view, the insurance company wants their attorneys to cooperate completely
with personal counsel because then —
Mr. Singer: Who want their client, their insured?
Mr. O’Donnell: Their insured; the insurance company’s lawyer who’s assigned to
a physician, they want them to cooperate fully, because at a later time, there can be no criticism
you failed to settle within policy or criticism or actions against the carrier for the failure to do
Mr. Singer: Why do the insurance companies resist this? Who pays the docs’
Mr. O’Donnell: The physician. I’m paid by the doctor himself. And the insurance
companies, it doesn’t cost them a cent. All they have to do is make me copies.
Mr. Singer: There is no incremental cost to the insurance company?
Mr. O’Donnell: No, other than Xeroxing.
Why don’t the insurance companies insist on it?
Mine do. And this is a major case.
Is this the kind of issue that some bar association committee
provides a forum for you to discuss with your colleagues who represent insurance carriers to say,
”Hey, look you turkeys, why aren’t you insisting that your clients do this?”
Mr. O’Donnell: This is the only time it’s ever happened. And this is a super good
lawyer and there’s a balance here. I’m delighted to have it in this lawyer’s hands because he
knows what he is doing. But on the other hand, I have an obligation to my client, and the fact of
the matter is that some day they are going to come back to me and talk about the possibilities of
contributing to a pot somehow — a settlement pot — and I am really going to say, ”How can you
do this?” I don’t know. I haven’t been able to complete my responsibility. And what I have to
be careful of is that I don’t want my doctor, my client, to lose this lawyer as his representative.
So, I’ve papered it. I’ve made my record and we’ll see what happens. This time next year it will
all be over (laughter).
Mr. Singer: Right (laughter). The other thing that was interesting that you
mentioned last time was your work on the Committee on Unauthorized Practice.
Mr. Singer: Because you indicated that the thing that really bothered you was
that people would be disbarred and they would end up back working in law firms ostensibly not
as lawyers but to begin to find out that they were somehow sharing as if they were lawyers.
What is the most common kind of sequel to disbarment? Let me put the question somewhat
differently. The Committees on Unauthorized Practice have spent, at least in Virginia for
instance, an inordinate amount of time in my judgment trying to keep title companies out of the
real estate practice. I think that war has been lost by the committees, by the bar associations.
And if I read the bar journals correctly, most of the causes of disbarment are for stealing your
client’s money. What about the issues of just plain incompetence?
Mr. O’Donnell: You will find, I don’t know whether you get the publication that
comes out every Monday, The Legal Times. Every Monday, there is a segment dedicated to
lawyers who have problems with bar counsel. If you read them, more and more incompetence is
becoming a factor. The failure to get the witnesses, the failure to communicate with physicians,
the failure to communicate with the clients. Normally, the first time is a wrist slap, and then the
second time is a little more serious. You can get a short suspension, and then later on if this
continues, you’ll be disbarred. And there is a lot of that out there. But what’s happened in recent
years is the lawyer comes in and says, ”I have a problem with substance abuse. I’m an alcoholic.
I’m a drug addict, and I’m now getting treatment.” There is a lady down there, her name is Susan
Makepiece. Ms. Makepiece would work with these people and try and straighten them out.
Mr. Singer: Where was she?
Mr. O’Donnell: With bar counsel, and I don’t know if she was employed by bar
counsel, but she worked hand-in-hand with them And you know that there is now this fund
that’s available for people who’ve had money stolen from them
Mr. Singer: IOLTA?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, but Nick Warden, when he was in charge of this, got the
money to increase from ”x” to a hundred times “x,” so there is much more money now available
for that purpose. But going back to the original issue, there are more lawyers because of their
lack of competency, and there are a lot of lawyers that I’ve seen —
Mr. O’Donnell: So many of us, whatever comes in the door, we grab. And then
somebody grabs something we shouldn’t be touching, and you don’t know what you’re doing.
And what is even more awkward, you don’t realize you don’t know what you’re doing. We see
this happen all the time. And especially in litigation.
Mr. Singer: I was going to ask you if you can identify areas where it’s likely to
Mr. O’Donnell: From my experience — I had a mediation last week with someone
who was unable to understand what a medical report was saying. She was representing a woman
who she thought was really entitled to a lot of money and had a minor disability rating, I mean,
which was a gift from her physician. And then, it was a disability rating. It was made after about
three months, and no good orthopod would make a rating under less than a year — sometimes
maybe six months.
Mr. Singer: You mean, to look at results?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, look at the results and evaluate them If you are in an
automobile accident, for example, and you’re representing a plaintiff, you should wait for at least
six months, usually I try a year, because you don’t now what’s going to happen. Someone’s been
banged around, and something will show up after a settlement, and you are in trouble.
Mr. Singer: This is your plaintiff’s hat?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes. And you are going to let the body get well, really well,
because we have all had nightmares where people have settled a case after three months, and then
three months and one day, the person’s in the hospital with emergency surgery. Because the
average physician treats you very conservatively at the beginning rather than with a lot of
invasive tests. Assuming that nature, within three months, will take care of everything. But you
can’t tell a lawyer in front of her client that what she is talking about here doesn’t make any
sense. The odd thing about this mediation — it was being monitored by three judges from the
Philippines through a one-way glass.
Mr. Singer: Who are just interested in how we do it?
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, in how we do it. And I have to be even more discrete in the
way I’m handling it. But, you know, I went outside, and I said to her, “Look, you know how the
body works. If you injure your neck, the pain goes down into your arm. If you injure your lower
back, the pain goes down into your legs. If you injure your mid-back, which this lady says, you
don’t have radiating pain up. It just doesn’t happen. It’s physically impossible.” Well, I tried to
be very discreet with her, and she thought this doctor — then the doctor, the insurance company
doctor was Charlie Epps, Dean of the medical school at Howard. And if there’s anybody who
knows something about orthopedics, it’s he. But he is very conservative, and he is used by a lot
of insurance companies. Well, my point is that there’s a lot of people out there that take anything
that comes in the door, and they should get it out in a hurry if they find that they don’t know what
they’re doing. This was a lawyer who did a lot of employee law, and this wasn’t her venue. I
remember one time, back when we were in the courthouse, a lawyer who had been a former
Postmaster General or the Solicitor in the Post Office, and he came in to try a plaintiff’s case, an
automobile accident before Judge McGuire. I don’t know if he had ever tried a case before, and
McGuire was scared to death the lawyer was going to have a coronary in front of him And,
when that was all over, whatever happened with the case, I don’t remember, McGuire told him,
he says, ”You know, Frank” — he had a very important post at the time — ”You have got to stay
out of this; this is not your battlefield. You’ve got to practice some other kind of law.” A judge
now would never say such a thing.
Mr. Singer: It’s hard to formulate the question. The question has nothing to do
with honesty which, one way or another, is what most disbarments seem to derive from
Whereas, we know that it’s a menace to unleash some of our colleagues onto an unsuspecting
public to handle a deal of almost any kind without some level of experience. The economic
pressures I understand, particularly for younger lawyers, but there is a whole crowd of people
who seem to practice law by shrieking — seems to be either that or blackmail. The only one I
remember dealing with was the notorious Sol Rosen who, I think, ultimately was disbarred.
he was bad.
Mr. O’Donnell: Sol’s still around.
Mr. Singer: I thought he was a menace, an extortionist.
Mr. O’Donnell: In the great scheme of things, and you appreciate this, you thought
Mr. Singer: There are a lot of worse ones?
Mr. O’Donnell: You know, this is very easy for somebody here to pontificate as to
who is doing what’s right because there are a lot of people who might disagree with what I do
and the way I do it and the way I handle things. But there really are some horror stories out there.
For this reason, I think this bar counsel has done a super job. He has good staff; he has some
good folks down there.
Mr. Singer: We’ve had good interaction so far in trying to develop a program
also with– whereby it’s our hope that we can get advance rulings for basically large firms so that
if an associate goes down and acts for the District of Columbia, Covington & Burling doesn’t
have to give up its practice adverse to the District of Columbia. There are special rules, as you
know, for the District that permit this kind of conduct.
Mr. O’Donnell: It’s Leonard Becker.
Mr. Singer: Leonard Becker; you are absolutely right.
Mr. O’Donnell: I can sleep through the night. I apologize, Leonard, if you ever
Mr. Singer: Right. I will never forget what’s his name.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yeah, ole’ what’s his name.
Mr. Singer: But it’s our hope that we can get this arrangement which I think is
going to be essential to getting a kind of enthusiastic reception in larger law firms that worry
desperately about conflict. I mean, it scares them to death. And it should. It’s the right thing to
worry about, and if you can develop a mechanism of letting Wilkes & Artis handle tort defense,
it’s looking for defense cases for the District without tainting their land use practice.
Mr. O’Donnell: But you can in law firms build a Chinese wall.
Mr. Singer: Sure.
Mr. O’Donnell: And it you do that, and you can document it, it shouldn’t be any
problem I’ll tell you where the big problems are, and the Chinese wall problems, are the
insurance companies. One insurance company may have five different defendants with five
different interests contrary to the other defendants. There is only so much they can do to put up a
wall. And in a big law firm, you can do that.
Mr. Singer: In the big law firms they do do it, and this kind of constant flow of
memoranda: Don’t talk to “x” about ”y.” And the files get very large labels on them ”Not to be
seen by” and ”To be seen only by ‘x’, ‘y’, and ‘z’ .”
Mr. O’Donnell: I want to mention something which naturally flows from this.
There was a strong groundswell against Leonard Becker being bar counsel because he was from a
big firm, and he had not been on the street as a sole practitioner. And people like Jake Stein were
very upset that a big — of course, Jake Stein was a part of a big menace as far as bar counsel is
concerned. He has very strong feelings of his own about the system, and I’ve forgotten who else
was up, who was being considered. Maybe Austin Canfield, and he is from a small firm
Mr. Singer: Insurance defense.
Mr. O’Donnell: Yes, he had shut down. He was running a bird feed store actually,
if you can believe that. Somewhere in southern Maryland.
Mr. Singer: He was a partner — Was Dick Mayfield in Oliver Gasch’s old firm?
Mr. O’Donnell: No. Austin had started with Dick Galiher, and then he broke off
and went out with a couple other fellows — Ed Corman. Ed was in the courthouse with Judge
McLaughlin when you were there. He was Judge McLaughlin’s law clerk. And the idea being
that whoever it was as bar counsel, it shouldn’t be somebody who comes from a sophisticated
environment like Becker’s. Nobody’s done a better job even though some of my people haven’t
had the best results down there, but nevertheless — let me mention one last thing, too, since you
brought it up. You know this Corporation Counsel concept of bringing in outside people to, in
addition to being delicate, it’s been tried before, and I don’t know how far it went along. There
was an effort, let’s say in the last ten years, maybe less, where they tried to get people to come
down and handle cases for the Corporation Counsel or ride shotgun on trials. The problem
though with the big firm is you’ve got to get somebody up there, say in child care, custody cases,
juvenile cases, that really will get involved. For in fairness to the judges, they are all burnt out on
this ai:ea of the law. They’re very cynical, and you can’t blame them The rotations aren’t quick
Mr. Singer: It starts, I think, with John Payton, who was Corporation Counsel
under Sharon Kelly.
Mr. O’Donnell: I think you’re right.
Mr. Singer: And it was at the time that the CPR was being revised nationwide,
and each jurisdiction was doing its own thing, and he, with Vanessa Ruiz, importuned the
committee that was developing these to develop a special exception where a unique provision for
the District would allow District private practitioners with fairly careful guidelines to work pro
bono for the District of Columbia The marvel, I think what they wanted to do initially, was to
bring people over to the Corporation Counsel’s offices for a period ot time, generally young
people which was done in an atmosphere in which there were seniors and a fair number of
lawyers over in that office, and as a way of just processing more business but with young people,
for instance, who had trial experience in big firms. Now, no young people get any trial
experience in large firms any more. But that was the marvel — that Payton and Vanessa were
working toward and, in particular, the reason I know the timing fairly well is because I just
retired ten years ago.
Mr. O’Donnell: So my guess was fairly —
Mr. Singer: Yes. And it was part way along that I went over and told Vanessa,
”Look, there are things I know how to do.” And she had been an associate of mine at Fried
Frank. Wonderful, wonderful lawyer, and was there a way that I could come on board over there
to help. And, in fact, there was something called the dirty dozen pieces that they wanted me to
Mr. O’Donnell: Your reputation proceeds you.
Mr. Singer: No, they didn’t want anybody. It was not me. I didn’t take it
personally. But anybody coming from the outside to look at those leases was apparently a major
threat to them Those are also the leases where the government for the District just keeps right
on paying tbe rent, even though nobody in the District is in those buildings. The leases have
expired — an outrage. So, here I am, back again. When Ruff came in, I went to work for him,
and immediately got into the leasing business. But now, I think they have launched on a way to
satisfy some of the genuine concerns about the way the District leases. But the business of
getting private practitioners to work out a model so that it’s going to be easy and comfortable on
both sides recognizing both the private firms’ interests as well as meet the concerns of the
younger or other people who aren’t in the office already who aren’t being labeled incompetent by
bringing in people like that and who meet the needs of the judges as well.
Mr. O’Donnell: Sounds like something the Court of Appeals would love to sign off
on especially if John gave them the —
Mr. Singer: Yes. But he has more than just no objection.
Mr. O’Donnell: How long is he going to be there? You know the turnover of
Mr. Singer: A serious problem
Mr. O’Donnell: Since Frank Murphy who was there forever and did a super job.
Frank and Louie Robins were a tandem
Mr. Singer: The mayoralty elections a year hence. And that’s obviously going
to provoke a change.
Mr. O’Donnell: I forgot about that. Now you see why I abhor politics. You know,
I don’t know who is going to be — we do have some super people in D. C. who could be a great
mayor, and some who have indicated indirectly that they might be interested, but–
Mr. Singer: A new candidate? Somebody who — ? I spend a lot of time
tbinkine about this.
Mr. O’Donnell: I see. I always thought Eric Holder would be the mayor.
Mr. Singer: He was everybody’s first choice. But I think if your choices are
between being the mayor of Washington and a Justice on the Supreme Court, you opt for the
Mr. O’Donnell: Thinking of the Council: Jack.
Mr. Singer: The guy from the Hill? Jack Evans?
Mr. O’Donnell: Jack Evans. I have been very impressed with him He has made a
number of presentations. I think he’s got the interests, the concept, the street sense, the police
department. It’s all a roll. It isn’t perfect, but boy, is it on a roll.
Mr. Singer: And they lucked out with the crime statistics, which is only
partially related probably. Anything anybody thought about.
Mr. O’DonnelI: But then, I guess, they’ve got to do something about the police
chief and his staff. You have got all these things hanging over you. But first thing, you’ve got to
get rid of the mayor.
Mr. Singer: Absolutely, absolutely.
Mr. O’Donnell: And why these people want to keep him on are just the featherbedding
here in the D. C. government.
Mr. Singer: And that’s the answer. I mean, if there’s one thing that has been
absolutely consistent with Barry all along is he’ll steal money from any place to make jobs.
Particularly for his own.
Mr. O’Donnell: And they are very loyal to him, and if I were they, I would be loyal
to him, too.
Mr. Singer: It’s not as if that’s a technique that was invented in Washington —
Boston, New York, Chicago, you name it. Putting your people in jobs is important. But those
cities, by and large, continue to deliver services and that’s the real difference. That the services
disappear; the jobs remain, but people are sitting in jobs doing nothing.
Mr. O’Donnell: Well, the great story is of James Michael Curley up in Boston.
And you know, he had his fingers in everything. But when James Michael died, Cardinal
Cushing was made a Cardinal. And you know Cushing. And the story of the old Irish woman
who said, “My God, James Michael has only been in heaven six months, and they’ve made a
Bishop a Cardinal.” And that says that James Michael could do no wrong.
:Mr. Singer: But the streets got clean. It wasn’t that the people who were being
appointed were incompetent.
Mr. O’Donnell: The one thing that I wonder about those times because I’m not very
sophisticated is that nobody starved to death that I know of. Somehow, through the city or
whatever, through relatives, the people didn’t starve somehow.
Mr. Singer: They didn’t sleep on the streets either.
Mr. O’Donnell: . The street situation is the Court of Appeals cutting all these people
loose from St. E’s where they were in a structured and controlled environment, and they weren’t
nuts, but they got out on their– you couldn’t win a habeas corpus. I mean, you’re trying to keep
them in, but they were all cut loose.
Mr. Singer: O.K. Thank you very much I’m going to get the transcript of this
session and take a look at it and maybe make a judgment as to whether there are other things. I
didn’t ask you whether there are things you’d like to talk about. You keep talking about the
tbmgs that I want to talk about.
Mr. O’Donnell: I have talked about tbmgs that are really of interest to me. That is
sometbmg I have told my wife — that at least whatever my mind or platform is — I had a chance
to put it in.
Mr. Singer: Good.
Mr. O’Donnell: So, I really appreciate it. I don’t know how you can handle all this.
It is an ego trip. Chuck Richey would never say that.
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH JOHN JUDE O’DONNELL