Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP
|Philip Lacovara unseated a U.S. President at an age when most lawyers haven't yet sat first chair. As Counsel to Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, Philip rose to prominence at the age of 30 when he successfully pled his office's case for the so-called Nixon Tapes-secret White House recordings of conversations that would finally |
prove President Nixon's involvement in the Watergate cover-up. (see Related Article, "A Wink and a Nod") It was an ironic accomplishment for a life-long Republican.
|Philip Lacovara is pictured with Thurgood Marshall at the original Thurgood Marshall Award ceremony in 1993. The award is given by the ABA to the person believed to have contributed the most to civil rights in a given year or over a career. Presenting the award is Karen Hastie Williams, the daughter of Marshall's civil rights colleague. Philip Lacovara stands behind Ms. Williams.|
Varied Early Experience
In a career of public service law, many would say his work on Watergate was his greatest public service. Many others would disagree. It wasn't even his first brush with high-profile law. As a young associate at Hughes & Hubbard, he worked on criminal appeals and served as a special consultant to the Attorney General authoring the federal government's amicus curiae brief in the first cases coming before the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the system of capital punishment.
Not long after this, he took a leave of absence to work as Special Counsel to the new NYPD "reform" Police Commissioner brought in to deal with the police corruption scandal exposed by the famous Knapp Commission and launched as a result of the Serpico reports on police corruption. From there it was on to the U.S. Solicitor General's Office and, eventually, the Special Prosecutor's job.
Among his early pro bono cases after he left the Watergate Office and returned to private practice with Hughes Hubbard, was his work on a pro bono case for migrant farm workers involving huge wage adjustments. Such a range of constituencies-the death penalty, police corruption, migrant workers, White House abuses-suggests the non-categorical approach Philip has taken in public service law.
If there is one area he's tended to favor it would probably be human rights law. As Chair of the ABA's Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, he encouraged the organization to use its influence to get involved in human rights matters, both abroad and at home, launching the ABA's international human rights trial observer program. As Chairman of the ABA's Advisory Committee on International Trial Observers he monitored trials in politically repressive countries. They seek to intervene through letter-writing, publicity campaigns, and on-site monitoring. He continues that work as a board member of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR), a UN-sanctioned Non-Governmental Organization.
In 1986, he attended his first such trial in post-Tito Belgrade, where six political dissidents, ranging from Democratic European Socialists to Trotskyites, were accused of political agitation. (Philip remembers one of the accused calling for greater autonomy for some region called Kosovo, a place he'd never heard of before.) Four were ultimately acquitted and two convicted but given light sentences for their "agitation."
More recently, he traveled to Turkey to monitor the opening of the trial of a local bar leader, Turgat Inal, being prosecuted for criticizing Turkish law. Mr. Inal wrote an article published by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey entitled, "We Protect Human Rights with Imperfect Constitution and Laws," which was viewed as a pro-Kurd position in a country where the minority Kurdish population is considered a serious threat to stability. He and nine members of the local Human Rights Foundation were charged with "insulting the laws of the Turkish republic."
As part of monitoring the trials, Philip met personally with prosecutors and judges to discuss Yugoslav and Turkish law and politics. "And it was not a one-way conversation," he recalls. When he focused the discussion on Turkey's repressive political policies, especially as regarded the Kurds, Turkish justice officials were quick to question the United States' own record on human rights, citing the predominance of African-Americans and other minorities in our prisons and the widespread use of the death penalty. "I couldn't deny it when they argued that the United States executes more people than does Turkey - at least officially," Philip admitted.
His work with the LCHR has involved legal and political struggles in a variety of countries. It was through Philip that, with Washington associates Peter Choharis and Julie McConnell, we joined in the case re-examining the murder of four missionary women in El Salvador in 1980 and the culpability of the commanding officers of the soldiers who raped and murdered them (discussed in May 2000 Update). Those commanding officers, the former Defense Minister and the former commander of the National Guard, are now residents of Miami. LCHR argues, on behalf of their families, that they are subject to civil liability under U.S. law, the Torture Victims Protection Act, and must bear "command responsibility" for outrages like this.
Here at Home
Domestic human rights issues are an equal concern. Philip has been helping the ACLU try to get restitution for victims in a criminal case involving slavery and abuse of deaf Mexicans forced to peddle trinkets in the streets of New York. In another case, he filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the rights of states to set up separate procedures for indefinitely confining sexually violent predators.
As Vice President and Trustee of the D.C. Bar Foundation, he helps direct the allocation of more than half a million dollars a year in IOLTA funds to a number of legal service providers, including the Legal Aid Society of D.C., Ayuda, Inc., which represents members of the Latino community, and the D.C. Prisoners Legal Services Project, which represents prisoners and their families in civil law matters such as medical claims and Aid to Dependent Children.
He is also currently working with the Asian-American Defense Fund in a case defending a set-aside program. "We argued that a race-based preferential program can be justified as long as a clear pattern of discrimination can be established. We were able to show such a pattern regarding Asian-Americans has left them economically behind." The practical effect of the case was to establish a 10% premium for Asian-American bidders in governmental contract proposals.
How does such work mesh with the corporate experience? As Managing Director and General Counsel at Morgan Stanley, Philip supervised court cases and arbitrations in forums around the world, and dealt with financial regulations in the United States, Europe and East Asia. As Vice President and Senior Counsel for Litigation & Legal Policy of the General Electric Company at GE's world headquarters, he oversaw litigation in the United States and abroad in everything from product liability, nuclear energy, power generation and construction to environmental pollution and international joint ventures.
Yet it was during these very years of heavy corporate work that Philip was also most involved with the ABA's Individual Rights Committee. He helped establish the ABA's Thurgood Marshall Award, which goes to the person who has contributed the most to civil rights in a given year or over a career.
Thurgood Marshall Award
Establishing the award was not as uncomplicated as one might have expected, however, for the award's first recipient was Thurgood Marshall himself. As a young civil rights attorney, Thurgood Marshall had not been allowed to join the all-white ABA, and even after it integrated he disdained joining it. "It took a lot of persuading to change his mind," Philip recalls. "He was certainly entitled to his resentment, and I considered the award a kind of apology for the ABA's past blindness." After an exhausting lobbying effort, they were able to change Justice Marshall's mind, and he attended the award ceremony in San Francisco, the last time he traveled outside Washington before his death in 1993. "He never did join the ABA, either," Philip remembers.
Why You Become a Lawyer
"Our effort to recruit members of the ABA Individual Rights Section - traditionally its smallest section - featured what we hoped would be a provocative question: 'Remember why you wanted to become a lawyer?' We all bring different motives and aspirations into this profession, but I hope that young lawyers especially make room in their crowded careers to use their skills to help people who need a lawyer's help but otherwise can't get it."
Philip Lacovara was this year's featured speaker at the Annual Pro Bono Luncheon. The luncheon honors all Chicago lawyers and staff who have participated in pro bono work in the past year.
[ Go Back ]