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TONY BEST: Holder back home at Covington


TONY BEST: Holder back home at Covington

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WONDERING WHERE ERIC HOLDER JR is now that the Bajan-American is no longer the United States Attorney General?

The answer is straightforward enough.

Actually, he is “back home,” if you will, at Covington & Burling, a titan of the United States legal profession with offices not far away from the Justice Department, which until a few months ago Holder headed for six years.

It’s a firm that is as corporate blue-blood as it can be, with a client list that reads like a who’s who of the leaders of Wall Street  —Morgan Stanley, Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citi-Group – among them.

Recently, the law firm’s directors voted unanimously to make him a partner and if a published report is accurate, he is likely to make more than the US$2.3 million he received in compensation the last year he was there in 2008.

Just as intriguing, he may be occupying the same office he used up to 2008 when the then newly elected President Barack Obama invited him to become the country’s Attorney General, the first person of colour to hold the job.

“Coming back to Covington, in some ways, that’s easy,” Holder told the National Law Journal recently. “This is home for me. It’s a collegial place that has great lawyers who are engaged in really interesting, cutting-edge kinds of things. It’s got a client base that is worldwide in nature, even more global than it was when I left in 2009.

The firm’s emphasis is on pro-bono work and being engaged in the civic life of this country is consistent with my worldview that lawyers need to be socially active.”

The 64-year-old former judge in Washington DC’s Superior Court in the 1980s, the top federal prosecutor in the nation’s capital in the early 1990s and Deputy Attorney General during much of President Bill Clinton’s tenure in the White House has maintained his parents’ tradition of having a strong link to Barbados. His father Eric Holder Sr emigrated from the island, specifically St Joseph, when he was a youth, and his mother, Miriam Holder, traced her family’s roots to St Philip.  That link was solidified when Eric Jr flew to Barbados early in his tenure as AG and officially opened a legal services complex at the top of Horse Hill in St Joseph that bears his name.

The six-foot-plus legal luminary said he will have an opportunity to mix his private law practice at Covington with his passion for improving race relations; expanding access to justice for the poor; continuing to seek reforms to the criminal justice system; diversifying the legal profession; and doing more pro bono work.

“There’s no question that there needs to be more pro bono across the board,” he told the National Law Journal.

“I started at the Justice Department this office called ‘The Access to Justice Initiative, which we started out with (Harvard University Law School Professor) Larry Tribe.

That was in recognition of the fact that too many people in this country make consequential decisions without the assistance of counsel. It is a shocking thing to see you have juveniles who plead guilty without ever talking to a lawyer. You have child custody disputes that are resolved often times in front of a judge but without a lawyer.”

Let’s assume, Hillary Clinton becomes the next President and she offers him a seat on the top court, how would he respond?

“I’d say, ‘Madam President, with all due respect, you need to pick somebody who’s (a) younger and (b) who’s a lot more interested,’” he said. “That’s not something I want to do.”

And what does he think about some key decisions of the Supreme Court:

• Same-sex marriage: “I was proud. It was something that was very heart-warming.”

• The death penalty: “I am personally opposed (to the death penalty) . . . I hope that we as a nation will get to a place where we don’t impose the death penalty, where we join the majority of the rest of the world.

As for his close relationship with Obama, he said they are still in touch. “We have a good ongoing relationship.”

Presumably, he will have more time to visit Barbados.

Tony Best is the NATION’S North American correspondent.