As Shakespeare said . . .

Art Buchwald

August 02, 1993|By Art Buchwald

MY nominee for the 1993 "Revolving Door Man of the Year" goes to Abraham Sofaer, Ronald Reagan and George Bush's legal brains in the State Department from 1980 to 1990. The reason I believe he deserves the award is this: Abe Sofaer was the person who wrote the administration's opinion justifying the U.S. bombing of Libya. It was considered a magnificent piece of legal work.

Then Mr. Sofaer left the government through Washington's revolving door. This door makes it possible for government servants, who barely made a living while they served their country, to abruptly go into private practice and represent the people they strongly opposed in the past. It is called "having your cake and a large retainer, too."

The reason I chose Mr. Sofaer for this distinction is that after giving Mr. Reagan the green light to bomb the hell out of Libya, he agreed to take on Muammar Kadafi as a client. He was prepared to represent Libya in its lawsuits with the relatives of passengers on Pan Am flight 103 which was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, by Libyan terrorists.

Having killed 270 innocent people, Libya naturally deserved the best legal advice that money could buy.

On the surface it seemed to be a good deal for everyone. The Libyan leader would get a top lawyer and Mr. Sofaer could change horses in midstream.

John Townsend, Mr. Sofaer's partner, gave a typical lawyer's explanation for taking the case when he said, "It seemed to us to be an interesting professional challenge."

Unfortunately, there was so much heat from the press and his former colleagues that Mr. Sofaer decided to bow out. But he still gets my award for wanting to take the case in the first place.

This is not the only occasion that a person has left the government to represent the scoundrels he had pursued. Revolving-door lawyers are very much sought after when they go into private practice.

Many government officials can't wait for the day when they walk through the door.

Frederico Banger is a lawyer in the Justice Department and he's preparing the World Trade Center bombing trial. Mr. Banger told me, "I've got a great case against Sheik Rahman, but I can't wait until I get out of the government to launch his appeal."

"Is that ethical?" I asked him.

"It's more than ethical. It's plain, old-fashioned survival. I've got two kids to put through school and I'm not going to do it on what Janet Reno pays me."

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