As Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers prepares for a potentially bruising confirmation battle in the Senate, her former law firm — the Texas-based Locke Liddell & Sapp — has got its own work cut out for it on Capitol Hill.
In a bizarre case of timing, the firm is launching its Washington, D.C., lobbying arm this week — a rollout planned long before Miers was tapped for a Supreme Court vacancy.
“We didn’t choose this moment,” acknowledged Dave DiStefano, a founding partner at Locke Liddell Strategies, as the Washington office will be known. “It chose us.”
The powerhouse Texas law firm — which former co-managing partner Miers left in 2000 — has lobbied for clients in Washington, but until recently has not had a permanent D.C. office.
From 2000 to 2003, Terral Smith, a one-time legislative director to then-Gov. Bush, commuted from Austin to lobby on behalf of a handful of Texas-based clients. But Smith did not want to move to Washington, so the firm began shopping for people to plant its flag here.
The firm has been planning to open its Washington beachhead since the beginning of the year. Phil Rivers, a founding partner and former chief of staff to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), started work for the firm in August.
On Monday, as President Bush was making the surprise announcement that he was nominating Miers for the high court, DiStefano and Roy Coffee, a former senior aide to then-Gov. George W. Bush (R), clocked in for their first day of work at the firm.
“We found out that morning like everybody else, when the story broke,” Rivers said.
Meanwhile, Coffee, known to Beltway media for his long history with the Bush family, was receiving calls from reporters who had questions about Miers, but who were unaware of his new job.
“I was getting calls the same day I joined her old law firm,” he said. “It was weird timing to say the least.”
Together, the three have already assembled an impressive book of business worth nearly $3 million, according to firm officials. Clients include the Center for Responsible Lending, FM Policy Focus, BellSouth, Genworth, Sempra Energy and Strategic Health Care.
The firm intended to roll out the news of its Washington launch when Congress returned from its Columbus Day recess, but was preempted by inquiries this week after the Miers announcement.
If confirmed, Miers would certainly raise the profile of the Texas firm she left in 2000 before joining Bush as assistant to the president and staff secretary in 2001. But her ascension to the Supreme Court would also mean the firm’s fledgling Washington operation would lose a key White House contact.
Robert Miller, a partner with Locke Liddell & Sapp, emphasized that the firm has never sought to profit from its association with Miers.
“Harriet is a person of the highest ethical standards,” he said. “We have never lobbied her on any matter, nor would she be receptive to that. I can say that categorically as chair of our public law section.”
Rivers added: “The establishment of the office here is not only unrelated to [Miers’] appointment, but it is unrelated to her position in the White House. We would have done this office whether Ms. Miers had been in the White House or not.”
Further, the Washington partners pointed to extensive experience with the executive branch and on Capitol Hill that have nothing to do with Miers’ role in the administration.
Rivers joined the lobbying firm Bockorny Petrizzo late last year after leaving Shelby’s office. He started in Washington as a legal counsel at the Interior Department, then spent 20 years working for energy giant Texaco, including two stints in the company’s Washington office.
Coffee comes to the firm from O’Connor & Hannan. He served as deputy campaign manager for Bush’s first gubernatorial run in 1994 and then worked as a director of state-federal relations in Texas for then-Gov. Bush.
DiStefano, a former chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), brings his solo lobbying practice to the new firm.
The partners said they would look to expand their business both from within the Texas firm’s existing client base and beyond it.
“The game plan is to build a top-notch shop,” Coffee said. “But we want to be thoughtful and conservative as we grow and not get ahead of ourselves.”
While the three founding partners are all Republicans, they said their next hire will likely be a Democrat who has experience in the Senate. For now, though, the firm is focused on wrapping up the legislative session for its current clients and dealing with more mundane tasks.
“We just got our phones,” Coffee explained.