William Jeffress Third Interview: August 23, 2011Catherine Nugent2022-04-26T17:25:37-04:00
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Oral History of William H. Jeffress, Jr.
Third Interview – August 23, 2011
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of the Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is William H. Jeffress, Jr. The
interviewer is Professor Angela J. Campbell. The interview took place at Georgetown Law.
PROF. CAMPBELL: It is already August 23. Last time we had finished talking about
your clerkships. You said you had a lot to say about your time at Miller Cassidy. So unless
there is something you want to add from last time, we can just get started with that.
MR. JEFFRESS: No, I’m amazed at how long I’ve talked already, and I’m not even to
my practice of law. So, I think when we left off, I left my clerkship with Justice Stewart and
joined what was then a six-lawyer firm—Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin.
PROF. CAMPBELL: So four of them were the named partners?
MR. JEFFRESS: The four of them were the named partners, and there were two other
former Supreme Court law clerks, both of whom were friends of mine.
PROF. CAMPBELL: And who were they?
MR. JEFFRESS: Bob McLean, who left not long after I started to move back home to
Chicago. He became the managing partner of Sidley and Austin. He unfortunately died about
eight or ten years ago. And the other was Marty Minsker, who clerked for Justice Harlan. When
Justice Harlan died, he had helped wind up Justice Harlan’s affairs at the Court and then he had
started with Miller Cassidy a few months before I did. So it was just the four plus those two. I
was the seventh come to think of it.
It was a very interesting firm. Jack Miller had been head of the criminal division of the
Justice Department under Bobby Kennedy. He had been president of the bar in D.C. and run for
lieutenant governor of Maryland, unsuccessfully, as we were happy to note. He was a unique
fellow. He loved practicing law, loved people. He was a great leader of that firm and always
was our inspiration.
The firm did almost entirely litigation. We were trial lawyers. The four named partners
had served in the Justice Department at one time or another. We handled almost any kind of
case. We didn’t do divorce cases and we didn’t do personal injury cases, but we did just about
any other kind of litigation—small to large. Lots of interesting cases. Small enough cases where
I, as a brand new lawyer, could walk into court on my own and argue the case, or take a
deposition, or whatever. So it was a way to learn by getting my feet wet immediately, which is
one thing that most attracted me to the firm.
When I started at Miller Cassidy I wanted to know whether I would like being a trial
lawyer and whether I would be any good at it. You never know until you do it. If I didn’t like it,
or wasn’t any good at it, I thought I would go teach at a law school somewhere. I had the
credentials, what was then considered credentials, to teach. But I loved it from the beginning. I
tried cases with Nat Lewin. Tried my first case on my own, I guess in 1974. Well, I did
everything I could find. I was in small claims court. I did everything I could to get in court
whether it was a paying case or not a paying case.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Are there some of those early cases that you particularly
MR. JEFFRESS: Well yeah. Let’s see. I had a friend from law school—the wife of a
friend—she was a real estate agent in town, and she thought her employer had cheated her out of
a commission for, I think it was $10,000 or some small amount, relatively. And I said, sure, I’ll
handle it, and my fee if I win, will be dinner at the restaurant of my choice. I picked a restaurant
in San Francisco. Unfortunately, we lost the case before Judge Hannon in Superior Court. I told
Mary it was because she was not a credible witness. (laughter)
PROF. CAMPBELL: Are you still friends?
MR. JEFFRESS: Yes, we’re still good friends. And one of our clients was Ringling
Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. I had a case against Abe Pollin when he built the Capital
Centre out in Largo, Maryland, having to do with his breach of an agreement to allow the circus
to play at Capital Centre on certain terms. When the agreement fell apart, he started producing
his own circus. We had a Lanham Act claim that he was creating confusion between his circus
and Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey. We had a preliminary injunction hearing before John
Lewis Smith in District Court, which we won. Went up on appeal, we won.
During that time Ringling Brothers put on the circus here, and they had a number of
complaints by people that they didn’t get the seats they paid for or this, that and the other. I went
into small claims court and represented them on that. It was really great—I got to see their
headquarters in D.C. I met the lion trainer, Werner [Gunther Gebel-Williams]. Anyway it was a
We represented a company called Darling Delaware. You weren’t here then, but back in
the late 60s, early 70s, Darling Delaware ran a rendering plant on the Georgetown waterfront.
And the stink was terrible throughout Georgetown. There would be days when all of
Georgetown was affected. You had protests from senators and congressmen—get rid of this
thing. And we defended them. The D.C. government had something called the “smell-o-meter,”
or something like that, to prove this was a nuisance. We proved the smell-o-meter was not a
scientific instrument. (laughter) To make a long story short, kept it open long enough that
somebody had them to pay them a lot of money to go out of business.
I did another case for Darling Delaware where they picked up fat and bone at grocery
stores that was cut off the meat, and transported it to make tallow for candles and other things,
soap. The D.C. government started giving all their trucks tickets because they weren’t covered.
They said you’re hauling garbage, and the D.C. Code requires a special license and covered
trucks to haul garbage. Well, that would have meant a lot of money for them. [Darling
Delaware Corp. v. Dist. of Columbia, 380 A.2d 596 (D.C. 1977)]
So I tried the case in Superior Court. The sole question was whether what they were
hauling was garbage—the definition of garbage under the D.C. Code. So that was another of my
famous cases. We won that case. (laughter) So that’s an illustration of the just dozens of cases,
fairly small cases.
But two years after I started, Nixon resigned. We had represented Richard Kleindienst in
the Watergate stuff; represented Richard Moore, who was a White House advisor. Jack Miller
had become known to Nixon through Moore. After Nixon resigned, within a week I believe, he
hired us to represent him. Those were exciting days. There were a number of issues that he
faced, one of which was, would he be indicted.
Immediately, we started meeting with Leon Jaworski, who was the Watergate special
prosecutor. Did some work to try to show that it would have been impossible for Nixon to get a
fair trial. We had some arguments that you cannot indict a former president for conduct while in
office, but given that the impeachment clause says if somebody is impeached they can be
prosecuted, we thought we would probably lose that argument. He resigned rather than be
impeached but still—. For about thirty days we worked furiously night and day on the various
issues presented. Another one was what happens to his tapes and papers.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Before you get to that, I remember reading an article about this
where it basically said that Jack Miller was responsible for convincing Nixon to accept a pardon.
Is that correct?
MR. JEFFRESS: Yes.
PROF. CAMPBELL: I don’t know what your involvement was and how much you can
say about it, but I think that would be very interesting.
MR. JEFFRESS: Well that’s the third segment, it sort of follows this.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Okay, so let’s keep it in your order.
MR. JEFFRESS: There were White House tapes that the special prosecutor was seeking
to obtain and had obtained some, which led indirectly to his resignation. He had hundreds of
thousands of papers in addition. By history and tradition, the White House papers of a president
were considered his personal property. Lincoln’s heirs actually had sold his papers for $50,000,
I think. George Washington’s son had taken custody of his papers. There was a long history.
That issue was more one of history than of law, because it had never been challenged. Marty
Minsker, I remember, became the world’s leading authority on the presidential papers.
As a practical matter, no one was going to let Nixon walk off with all his tapes and
papers and destroy them. And that was a big issue between us and the White House and special
prosecutor at the time.
Contemporaneously, Jack was talking to people in the White House, including the White
House counsel, about a pardon and the wisdom of President Ford pardoning Nixon. Nixon was
ill at the time, if you remember, he went to California and he had phlebitis. So Jack was back
and forth between California and Washington quite a bit that month. The way things worked out
is that—I don’t say Ford agreed to pardon Nixon—but he did make it clear that nothing would be
done until this problem of the tapes and papers was solved.
We negotiated an agreement called the Nixon-Sampson Agreement [Sampson was head
of the General Services Administration] to govern custody of Nixon’s tapes and papers.
Basically, it was a two-key system. The government would keep the tapes and papers, but access
would require two keys: one, which we would hold as Nixon’s attorneys, and one, which the
government would hold. Nobody could have access without the permission of the other. We
negotiated that, signed that, and the next day, Ford pardoned Nixon.
We had made various arguments, including some legal arguments, but mostly arguments
about what is best for the country. Convinced Leon Jaworski. Although he never said anything
in our presence or made any representation to us, it’s clear from his book that he thought that
was the best thing to do and signaled the White House that he had no objection to the pardon.
And so the pardon occurred. And then a firestorm happened.
I think within a matter of days, Congress passed a law declaring the Nixon-Sampson
Agreement invalid, taking sole control for the government of Nixon’s tapes and papers, and
stating in one provision of the law that if the court should determine that these are his personal
property, he shall be compensated as provided in the Fifth Amendment for a taking. That led to
two decades of litigation; more than two decades, twenty-five years I think.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Now that act was the Presidential Documents Act or something
like that, do you remember the name?
MR. JEFFRESS: Yes, the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act. It
was passed in 1974, shortly after the pardon. We first challenged that law and ultimately lost in
the Supreme Court. They said the government has provided that if you show they are your
papers, you’re entitled to compensation.
PROF. CAMPBELL: So this was brought as like a declaratory judgment? I have the
case Nixon v. Warner, but that’s not this case?
MR. JEFFRESS: No. I’ll get to that one because I argued that one. Nixon v.
Administration of General Services, [433 U.S. 425 (1977)] was to declare unconstitutional the
law passed by Congress. We did that, I think, as an injunctive case, but probably declaratory as
well. That zipped through the courts pretty quickly. We ultimately lost in the Supreme Court.
We then started a case seeking compensation for Nixon for the tapes and papers.
Simultaneously, because the Act had provided that if there were personal and private documents
among Nixon’s papers, he was entitled to have them, there were hundreds of disputes with the
government. At one point, the court ordered that the government excise the personal and private
conversations from the tapes. The government archivist went all up in arms because you
couldn’t excise them without destroying the tapes. So all this went on. To make a long story
short, because of all the litigation we had, all of the disputes with the government, the
information became public later than it would have under the Nixon-Sampson Agreement.
(chuckles) It would have expired after twenty-five years and all become public. There were
different stages at which other stuff would become public. That litigation was unbelievable, and
it lasted a long, long time.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Can you give some examples of some things that were disputed?
MR. JEFFRESS: Well, there would be conversations with his daughter, for example, that
got recorded because this was a voice activated system. We said, “Well, a conversation with his
daughter, you know we’re entitled to that, so cut it out of the tape.” “Well, we can’t cut it out of
the tape because that will destroy the integrity of the tape.” That probably took five years to
resolve those questions, and I forget even how we did it.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Maybe the technology got better by then.
MR. JEFFRESS: Probably, probably.
PROF. CAMPBELL: I do vaguely remember what a shock it was when it was
discovered that he had been taping these conversations all along and I guess the technology was
MR. JEFFRESS: Actually, Johnson had had the same system and there are a lot of his
tapes that are available. But his was not voice activated, so it didn’t pick up everything.
PROF. CAMPBELL: I see.
MR. JEFFRESS: And I think what happened with Nixon, it was voice activated and
therefore, he would forget it was on and forget he was being taped. He never told me that, but
Johnson, on the other hand, I think he had to flip a switch. There are lots of fascinating
conversations that Johnson had that are available at the Archives. They published a disk with
one of the biographies of Johnson. It’s fascinating stuff. Johnson was quite a manipulator. You
can see him manipulating people to get to where he wanted to be. Like in the 1964 murders of
Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner down in Mississippi. Remember the Philadelphia,
Mississippi, murders? He’s on the phone constantly, trying to get information about that and
motivate the FBI to get answers. You can hear him—he’ll talk to one person and then another
person will tell him something different. And he won’t just say well look, I was just told
something different. Instead, he’ll let them dig themselves in, and then he’ll say, well, let me tell
you something, I don’t believe that you’ve done what you say you’ve done, because I happen to
know blah-blah-blah. (laughter) But anyway, I digress on Johnson.
So, there was a lot of other litigation as well. Part of the litigation was requests or
demands for Nixon’s testimony—demands in the Watergate case, demands in the sort of subWatergate case, where Judge Gesell had the Ellsberg break-in case where Ehrlichman was a
defendant, lots of others. For the most part, we were helped by the fact that Nixon was in bad
health. Some we decided we could not successfully oppose, and others we opposed but were
unsuccessful. The testimony was taken, I believe in every instance, out in California. And I
didn’t attend any of that. Jack did. Or Stan Mortenson, my partner.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Did you talk to Nixon personally about these matters?
MR. JEFFRESS: I did. Well, you say about these matters. I had one case that I handled
personally. After the Watergate conspiracy trial—the Mitchell, Ehrlichman, Haldeman trial—
the network news organizations and Warner Communications sought copies of the tapes that
were played at the Watergate trial. They said there can’t be any claim of privilege because they
are public. I argued, first before Judge Gesell, who was assigned this matter, that when tapes are
obtained by subpoena to do justice in a criminal case, the person from whom they are
subpoenaed should not be subjected to their commercialization just from the fact that they
happened to have become evidence in a criminal case. [United States v. Mitchell, 386 F. Supp
639 (D.D.C. 1975)]
I argued that; lost that in the D.C. Circuit. [United States v. Mitchell, 551 F.2d 1252
(D.C. Cir. 1976)] Filed a cert petition which was granted; and the Court, rather than resolving
that question, decided that the Presidential Recordings Act sort of occupied the field here and
controlled access to these tapes. And that if the networks were to obtain copies, they would have
to obtain them within the rules and procedures set by the Archives. [Nixon v. Warner
Communications, 435 U.S. 589 (1978)] So that was the result. But it was exciting to argue a
case in the Supreme Court—my client is Richard Nixon, and I’m thirty-two years old. So it was
an exciting time.
PROF. CAMPBELL: But since this is for the D.C. Circuit Historical Society, do you
remember what happened at the D.C. Circuit?
MR. JEFFRESS: Yes, I do.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Probably something you’ll never forget I imagine.
MR. JEFFRESS: Frankly, when we signed the Nixon-Sampson Agreement, a lawsuit
was filed by some—I forget even who were the plaintiffs—citizens and maybe some
congressmen to enjoin the Nixon-Sampson Agreement. And that was consolidated with Nixon v.
Sampson [389 F. Supp. 107 (D.D.C. 1975)] and assigned to Judge Richey. As I mentioned
before, Congress then passed a law invalidating the Nixon-Sampson Agreement. A three-judge
court was required to rule on our lawsuit to declare that unconstitutional, with a direct appeal to
the Supreme Court.
PROF. CAMPBELL: So that was in the Presidential Act, that provision for the [threejudge court]?
MR. JEFFRESS: No, that’s just a matter of law. We sued to declare that law
unconstitutional and enjoin its enforcement. And under the law at that time, the three-judge
court was necessary to consider the constitutionality of an act of Congress. And there was no
dispute about that—a three-judge court was required. So that was assigned as a related case also
to Judge Richey.
It soon became apparent to us that Judge Richey was not going to rule on the motion for a
three-judge court. Instead he was going to proceed with the Nixon v. Sampson case, where he
would be the only judge. And we worked Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New
Year’s Day, we always had something due. While refusing to rule on the three-judge court,
Judge Richey set a schedule in Nixon v. Sampson to enable him to rule in a matter of two weeks
or something on the ownership of the tapes and papers. It was clear he was just itching to do
So we filed a petition for mandamus in the D.C. Circuit to require Richey to convene a
three-judge court and to cease proceedings in Nixon v. Sampson and related cases where the
news media had sued Sampson to enjoin the agreement. [Ed. Note: Judge Richey had three
consolidated cases, Nixon v. Sampson, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and
Hellman v. Sampson, see Nixon v. Richey, 513 F.2d at 433, n. 8.] We filed it in the afternoon and
Judge Richey became aware of it. The clerk of the court of appeals called Judge Richey’s
chambers wanting to know how much time the Court had to consider this before he ruled in
Nixon v. Sampson. He told the Court he was not going to rule today. So, at 2:00 in the morning,
he got his staff in and ruled.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Oh my goodness.
MR. JEFFRESS: This is all set out in the opinion of the Court of Appeals. [Nixon v.
Richey, 513 F.2d 430 (D.C. Cir. 1975)] I’m not making this up. They even had a time line when
all this occurred, which is attached to the opinion.
We learned about it first thing in the morning and immediately went to the Court of
Appeals before noon and asked that they rule on our petition for mandamus because Judge
Richey had flouted the Court of Appeals by ruling at two o’clock in the morning. The Court of
Appeals had an argument on it. No, the first thing they did was they issued a temporary stay of
his ruling. They then had an argument, I believe the next day.
I’ll never forget that argument. Bill Dobrovir, who was a good lawyer, friend of mine,
was representing Jack Anderson and he was arguing that “Look, there is no rush here. They are
asking that you issue a mandamus. Just let the process play out, they can appeal Judge Richey’s
ruling” and so forth. Judge Wilkey leaned over the bench, he said “Well, Mr. Dobrovir, if there
was no rush, why did Judge Richey rule at 2:00 o’clock in the morning?” (laughter) So anyway,
they overturned his ruling—they stayed it, vacated it.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Now did you argue that case?
MR. JEFFRESS: No, Jack Miller was arguing these cases. I was working on them, and I
was in court. So that was a fascinating period. And then we went on to a three-judge court; they
ruled against us. [Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 408 F. Supp. 321 (D.C. Cir.
1976)] That’s what produced the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the congressional statute.
[Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977)]
Those were exciting days. I’ll never forget that year—the end of the year 1974. I
probably worked sixteen hours a day every day including Christmas and New Year’s and
everything else to meet those deadlines.
PROF. CAMPBELL: And you were a young father?
MR. JEFFRESS: I was a young father with three children.
PROF. CAMPBELL: How was that for your wife?
MR. JEFFRESS: Well she was excited too.
PROF. CAMPBELL: She knew you were making history.
MR. JEFFRESS: Oh sure.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Well okay. The case that I read was in the D.C. Circuit, Judge
Bazelon wrote the opinion—
MR. JEFFRESS: Is that in Warner Communications or which one is that?
PROF. CAMPBELL: Oh yes, that’s Warner Communications, never mind.
MR. JEFFRESS: That’s the case I lost on the way to the Supreme Court.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Yes, okay.
MR. JEFFRESS: But the most fascinating case is the opinion of the D.C. Circuit on
Judge Richey, on our petition for mandamus, where they append a time line (chuckles) of Judge
Richey. [Nixon v. Richey, 513 F.2d 430, App. B (1975)]
So let’s see. That Nixon litigation actually continued even after his death. We
represented his estate in seeking compensation for the value of the tapes and papers. That again
was fascinating because how do you put a value on Nixon’s handwritten notes on a yellow pad
of his Moral Majority speech? I mean it’s invaluable; it’s part of history. You just don’t think of
it as commercial.
That litigation stretched out. Judge Penn probably did us a favor. There was a motion in
the litigation which he sat on for eight years; didn’t rule; nothing happened in the litigation. And
by the time that eight years was up, Nixon—I won’t say he was rehabilitated—but the anger was
gone. We were now in a different era altogether. We had Iran-Contra to worry about and so
So, Judge Penn sat on it for a long time, finally ruled. We took it to the Court of Appeals,
and they reversed and held that Nixon was entitled to compensation. [Nixon v. United States,
978 F.2d 1269 (D.C. Cir. 1992)] That was followed by a trial which went on for about three or
four months. I believe in 2000, no, in 1999, and before the conclusion of the trial, we settled that
case with the government. They paid as I recall $18 million or something, which is probably less
than the value of the papers, but took into consideration that we might lose. Some of that money
finally went to pay legal fees to Miller, Cassidy, Larocca & Lewin and some of it went to
Nixon’s estate. But the majority of it went to the Nixon Library to house and preserve many of
PROF. CAMPBELL: So the motion that Judge Penn was sitting on, I didn’t quite
understand what that was.
MR. JEFFRESS: I think it was a motion for summary judgment by the government;
could have been a motion to dismiss. My memory doesn’t serve me, but it was dispositive
motion. [Ed. note: It was on cross-motions for summary judgment. Nixon v. United States, 782
F. Supp. 634 (D.D.C. 1991).]
As I say, that started in August of 1974, when we started representing Nixon and
continued all the way until Miller Cassidy merged with Baker Botts in 2001. So it pretty much
was the whole time. And always very interesting. So that was a big case, one big case to start
As far as my own career, sometime in 1974, I went to Louisiana to represent a company
that was under investigation by the Antitrust Division—criminal investigation.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Before we get to Louisiana, did you want to talk more about the
Warner Communications case, because I don’t know that we actually finished that one.
MR. JEFFRESS: I think I talked about that last time, didn’t I? I talked about Justice
White and Justice Stewart. Anyway, what questions do you have about it?
PROF. CAMPBELL: I guess the question I have is really about the Presidential
Recording Act. Not knowing that history, my question is, when I read the case, I was so
surprised that the Supreme Court ruled on a ground that you didn’t argue before the Court.
MR. JEFFRESS: Right.
PROF. CAMPBELL: It just struck me as very odd.
MR. JEFFRESS: I think they didn’t want to reach the merits. It was very hard to make
the argument from the language of the statute. The language of the statute—I can’t remember
exactly what it said at this point—but basically said this doesn’t displace other rights on other
grounds that persons may have. I think probably Congress had in mind subpoenas that other
people might issue for some of the papers. But, it’s not all that unusual to have a case in the
Supreme Court that goes off on an issue that neither party really argued. Many times that’s a
matter of—not judicial restraint, that’s the wrong word—but avoiding making rulings that the
Court doesn’t have to make and would rather not make. That’s the way I always explain the
majority in that case.
PROF. CAMPBELL: I guess the other question I had was why did President Nixon
object so strongly when the tapes at issue I gather had actually been played in court and the
transcripts had been released to the public? So why was this such an important issue for him?
MR. JEFFRESS: Warner Communications, for example, was going to produce a set of
phonograph records, which is what we had back in those days, and maybe tapes as well, narrated
by George C. Scott, of Nixon using all kinds of expletives and saying things that would have had
a more intrusive impact on his privacy, on his psyche, than anything ever published in a
transcript. And that was one of the major things we argued. I think every member of the
Supreme Court agreed with me just from their own experience that it’s a different order of
magnitude when you have videotape or audiotape of an individual than if you have somebody
writing a book describing his conduct.
I remember what I thought was a brilliant argument by Edward Bennett Williams in the
Supreme Court. He said “transcripts cannot give you the full meaning of what occurred.” For
example, he said, “the transcripts are littered with the entry ‘u-h-hyphen-u-h.’ But a reader of
the transcript doesn’t understand whether Nixon is saying uh-HUH or unh-unh or UNH-uh.”
(Jeffress pronounces the word differently) (laughs) I thought it was a good argument.
But anyway, that’s why Nixon cared. That’s what was at stake really. I think that if
Warner Communications had not come in with the idea of commercializing the tapes, it could
have been different. And another thing that happened was Bill Dobrovir—and this got a lot of
publicity—had a portion of one of the tapes under some sort of protective order. He made the
mistake of playing them at a cocktail party, and that got out, and it was pretty offensive. So, had
Warner Communications not come in with the idea of commercializing the tapes, I think I would
have had a harder time in the Supreme Court. I don’t think they would have been as eager to
find a way to keep the tapes out of the hands of the news organizations.
And what happened, the case in the D.C. Circuit you’ll notice is Nixon v. NBC News or
something. Do you have the opinion? What’s the caption?
PROF. CAMPBELL: This is United States v. John Mitchell [551 F.2d 1252 (D.C. Cir.
MR. JEFFRESS: Is that what the caption was? All right. But who were the applicants?
So you see what happened was in the criminal case of United States v. Mitchell, we had an
appeal of National Broadcasting Company, et al., plus lots of other news organizations. [ABC,
CBS, the Public Broadcasting System, and the Radio Television News Directors Association].
And then we had a separate petition by Warner Communications, which was going to
commercialize the tapes. So when you are drafting a cert petition, I decided you can caption it
anything you want. I called it Nixon v. Warner Communications. (chuckles) I didn’t call it
Nixon v. NBC News. I remember, oh gosh, what’s his name, great First Amendment lawyer?
PROF. CAMPBELL: Floyd Abrams, I think was on the other side, right?
MR. JEFFRESS: Floyd Abrams. So Floyd, I think he called me up. And he said, “Look,
what are you doing?” (pounds on the table) “This is not the caption, we’re the appellants.”
(pounds again) And I said, “Well, you’re one of the appellants, but I can call it what I want.”
“No you can’t. We were the first appellant listed in the D.C. Circuit.” I said, “Well Floyd, you
know I filed the petition. I mean, if you want to do something to change the caption, that’s up to
you.” He was furious. (laughter) For good reason. Believe me, it was not accidental that I
called it Nixon v. Warner Communications.
PROF. CAMPBELL: Yeah, that’s fascinating. I guess the other question I had was what
was it like to have a former president as your client?
MR. JEFFRESS: Well, I’ll tell you. Before August of 1974, I was agitating for Nixon’s
impeachment and had very little good to say about him as president. But from the day that we
started representing him, I considered him very much an underdog. He had very few friends in
the judiciary or in the country. Everything, the powers of all kinds of institutions, were arrayed
against him. And that’s just the kind of person I like to represent.
From the time we started representing him, I had nothing bad to say about him. I liked
him as a person. He was always kind and considerate. I only met him once, but I talked to him
on the phone several times. It was a thrill. Even though most of my friends didn’t have any use
for Richard Nixon. One friend called me up and said, “Kleindienst, Nixon,” he says, “who’s
your next client – Satan?” (laughter)
PROF. CAMPBELL: So you didn’t have any qualms about taking on this case?
MR. JEFFRESS: Oh, not a bit, no, not a bit. I was thrilled to do it. I don’t know this
personally, but the story was that he had talked to a lawyer with another California-based, large
firm, somebody he knew, about representing him. That lawyer had said, “Well, we’re going to
have to take this through our firm’s executive committee, and we’ll need to iron out the problems
and we’ll get back to you in a week.” And I think Nixon was a little taken aback by that. When
Richard Moore called Jack Miller, Jack got all of the partners in Miller Cassidy in his office, and
we decided in five minutes to do it.
PROF. CAMPBELL: So being a small firm gave you that flexibility?
MR. JEFFRESS: It helped. And we were excited to do it; really, we were excited to do
it. Nat Lewin had written an article that had not yet been published calling—gosh, couldn’t have
been calling for his impeachment because he already resigned. I forget what the article was—it
may have been arguing that he should be indicted. Anyway, it was an article that, obviously if
you were Nixon’s lawyer, you have no business writing. But he had written it, it was in the New
Republic, and it had already been printed but hadn’t been released. It was released either the
very day we announced we were going to represent Nixon or the next day. And that was
something of an embarrassment. But, it couldn’t be helped. We didn’t do anything wrong. At
Miller Cassidy, we had Republicans and Democrats, and we had people that liked Nixon and
people that didn’t. But once we started representing him, there was no question. It was a thrill to
do it, and it was an exciting adventure.
PROF. CAMPBELL: So, I guess I had interrupted you. You were talking about how
you went down to Louisiana?
MR. JEFFRESS: Yeah, that does change the subject. In 1974, a friend of Jack Miller’s in
Louisiana, his wife’s family, owned a bakery in Louisiana that was under investigation under the
antitrust laws. Ultimately, that company was indicted. I had primarily handled the case.
PROF. CAMPBELL: So this was a criminal antitrust case, like price fixing?
MR. JEFFRESS: Price fixing. We got through motions, and the case was headed to trial.
I was down there with my client and they said, “Who is going to try this case?” And I said,
“Well, I’m sure Jack Miller will be happy to come try it.” And they said, “We would be just as
happy if you tried it,” which I thought was a compliment. I was twenty-nine years old or
something. I said I would love to do it. So I got to try my first criminal case as lead counsel
when I was twenty-nine years old; maybe I had turned thirty by the time of the trial. And it was
successful. That family became very close friends of mine, still are. Judge Reggie is the man’s
name who was the son-in-law of the owners of the bakery. He became my good friend and client
in any number of things and referred cases to me and recommended me to other people. The
result was that over a period of twenty years, maybe a little more, I tried nineteen criminal jury
trials in the state of Louisiana, including cases in which I represented the Insurance
Commissioner and the Commissioner of Natural Resources and a congressman and a judge and a
number of businessmen. I was in three of the four trials of Edwin Edwards. (rumbling sounds)
It’s not raining; I don’t know what it is.
PROF. CAMPBELL: It’s like an earthquake. But they must be doing construction—
(rumbling sounds get louder) Oh, my God! (other voices can be heard in the background)
MR. JEFFRESS: Had to be an earthquake, huh?
PROF. CAMPBELL: I think it was. What else could it have been?
MR. JEFFRESS: You don’t think it was an explosion? I didn’t hear anything.
PROF. CAMPBELL: The clock fell down.
MR. JEFFRESS: That is weird.
PROF. CAMPBELL: And the battery fell out so we know exactly what time it was.
MR. JEFFRESS: (looking out the window) Nobody out there seems to be excited.
PROF. CAMPBELL: That really kind of freaked me out. [Ed. Note: It was an