News & Politics

$900 an Hour? No, Thanks. We’ll Work for Hot Dogs

A look at the law firm of Paula Jones' former lawyer.

Cammarata and Sherman hand out cards with a note that their firm speaks Amharic. Photograph by Matthew Worden

A decade ago, Joe Cammarata was a young Virginian thrust into the spotlight as one of the lawyers suing President Clinton on behalf of Paula Jones.

Cammarata then landed at what is now Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, & Siegel. Along with partner Ira Sherman, Cammarata posted one of his first big wins as a downtown lawyer by obtaining a $1-million settlement on behalf of an Ethiopian-born defendant who had been bludgeoned in a Virginia hotel by an overzealous security guard.

Not long after, Ethiopian clients began appearing at the firm’s 17th Street brownstone. Partners paired up with Silver Spring lawyer Aseged Yimer, and they printed a notice on the back of their business cards in the Amharic language saying that they’re associated with an attorney who speaks their language. The firm now has almost 50 active Ethiopian clients and advertises in the Ethiopian phone directory.

When Cammarata recently stopped to get a hot dog from an Ethiopian vendor, he gave her that card and said to call if she ever had a problem.

A few days later the phone rang. Because of construction nearby, she said, she had been told to move her stand. Could Cammarata come to her aid?

“What could I do?” Cammarata says. “I had told her to call me.” So the high-paid attorney ventured out to explore the situation, called the building manager involved in the construction, and got the woman moved back to her original spot.

The fee for his time: free hot dogs for life.

This article can be found in the October 2007 issue of Washingtonian Magazine.