- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2011

A top partner in the law firm that abruptly dropped the House of Representatives as its client in defending the federal law defining marriage blamed the move on “an unfortunate misunderstanding” that caused the firm to lose one of its top lawyers.

J. Sedwick “Wick” Sollers, head of the Washington office of Atlanta-based King & Spalding, said in a statement he understood how Paul D. Clement, the former U.S. solicitor general, was led to believe the firm would stick by its contract to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

House Republicans had hired the firm after the Obama administration said it would no long back DOMA. Gay groups and some of King & Spalding’s top clients also pressured the firm for agreeing to defend the law. Mr. Clement quit the firm and joined a second firm to continue the case after the decision was announced.

“This was an unfortunate misunderstanding with a friend whom I personally recruited to the firm and strongly supported,” Mr. Sollers said. “I am deeply disappointed by Paul’s departure and regret the breakdown in communications.”

Mr. Sollers’ remarks referred to a stunning chain of events that occurred April 25: King & Spalding announced it was withdrawing from the DOMA contract and Mr. Clement announced he was leaving the firm in protest.

Mr. Clement’s announcement that he would continue the case with Bancroft PLLC, a Washington law firm, set off a legal firestorm.

Critics said the Atlanta-based firm essentially caved under to pressure from gay activists who fiercely oppose DOMA, and that abandoning an unpopular client because of political pressure undermines the foundation of fair and equal legal representation.

In his April 25 statement, King & Spalding Chairman Robert Hays said the firm was withdrawing from the House contract due to “inadequate” vetting.

Although Mr. Hays “assumed ultimate responsibility for any mistakes that were made, I want to make sure the record is clear,” Mr. Sollers said in his new statement.

“I was the member of firm management in primary contact with Paul Clement regarding this matter,” Mr. Sollers wrote. “As I have reflected on this, despite the fact that our standard client/matter review process was not followed, it was reasonable for [Mr. Clement] to believe that the firm would accept the matter.

In another DOMA-related development this week, the Navy backed off plans to permit its chaplains to perform same-sex marriages on Navy bases after a media storm and a letter from 63 House members.

“Offering up federal facilities and federal employees for same-sex marriages violates DOMA, which is still the law of the land and binds our military, including chaplains,” the members said in a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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