For more than a decade, William Sullivan Jr. was an assistant US Attorney, and Michele Roberts was the hottest public defender in DC.
Times and personal circumstances have changed. Roberts is now a partner at the powerful Washington law firm Akin Gump. Sullivan, at tony Winston & Strawn, now represents oil-company and bank executives, among others.
It was inevitable that they’d find each other again. They did in 2006 when Roberts sued a Sullivan client, along with military contractor DynCorp, for discriminating against her minority-owned client, WWNS Corporation, founded by Walter Gray, a federal employee turned businessman.
Sullivan represented EOD Corporation, the company DynCorp hired to succeed WWNS. DynCorp was represented by one of the city’s top contracts lawyers, George Ruttinger of Crowell & Moring.
Ruttinger had a track record of obtaining summary judgments in some of the most heralded defense-industry-related lawsuits. But Ruttinger probably wasn’t as familiar with Roberts’s trial skills as Sullivan was.
Sullivan smartly ducked out of the case before trial in a Virginia federal court, settling for a undisclosed but relatively small sum.
Roberts then whacked Ruttinger, winning a $15-million judgment that with various additions came out closer to $21 million—more than three times what WWNS stood to make if it hadn’t been fired.
Joining Akin Gump, where partners average about $1.2 million a year, raised eyebrows among old friends who questioned Roberts’s move. Cases like this one, Roberts points out, show she can work in a large firm and still be true to the principles that got her there.