News & Politics

When Cashing In Doesn’t Mean Selling Out

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.

This article first appeared in the August 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles like it, click here

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