A Legacy Of Public Service: King & Spalding's Public Policy And Government Advocacy Practice Group

Monday, May 1, 2006 - 00:00

Editor: Mr. Hester, would you tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Hester: I graduated from Harvard Law School in 1969 and started practicing in Atlanta. My first experience in Washington was in 1971, when I became legislative director for David Gambrell, U.S. Senator from Georgia. I returned to Atlanta in 1972 and worked as a municipal bond lawyer. Since 1983 I have been in Washington and engaged in government advocacy work.

Editor: How did you come to King & Spalding? Would you share with us the things that attracted you to the firm?

Hester: I moved to King & Spalding from a smaller firm in Atlanta in 1977. At the time I was very active in the Young Lawyer's Section of the State Bar of Georgia, where I had made a number of friends at King & Spalding. They recruited me. I saw that the firm was in a very strong position to support my practice and, ultimately, being at King & Spalding provided me with the opportunity to move to Washington.

Editor: Please tell us about your practice. How has it evolved over the course of your career?

Hester: In 1983, when I moved to Washington as head of King & Spalding's office there, I was using my bond experience in working with a coalition of public interest groups and lobbyists concerned about legislative proposals that would have severely restricted the issuance of tax-exempt bonds. By the time of the enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 I was spending more of my time in a government advocacy practice than in a bond practice. I had the good fortune that my partner, former Attorney General Griffin Bell, was involved in some very significant Congressional investigations at the time, including the tobacco hearings. Judge Bell gave me the opportunity to work with him on some of those matters. Additionally, King & Spalding has had a robust products liability practice group and a strong FDA practice group, both of which have needed substantial help during the years when Congressional committees were taking an interest in some of the products manufactured by clients of the firm. Over the course of my career I have been blessed with a supportive group of law partners and some excellent clients.

Editor: Would you share with us some of the high points of your Washington years?

Hester: Certainly working with Bridgestone/Firestone in the hearings related to the Ford Explorer rollovers was a significant high point. I also worked with Purdue Pharma in investigations by several Congressional committees and by the Government Accountability Office. Their product Oxycontin is a miracle pain killer, but it was being diverted and abused and some Members of Congress wanted to restrict patient access. I have a tendency to regard whatever I am working on currently as something of a high point. At the moment, that includes representing a number of pharmaceutical and medical device companies whose practices are being scrutinized by the Senate Finance Committee.

Editor: To what extent has your government investigations practice been influenced by Sarbanes-Oxley? Is the recent focus on corporate governance and transparency in the board room - internal corporate culture - serving to cut down external investigations launched by governmental agencies?

Hester: There do seem to have been fewer Congressional investigations recently. Some people attribute that to a Republican-controlled Congress being less inclined to investigate the Republican Administration's regulation of business. It is clearly the case that there are other priorities on the collective minds of Congress. Let me note that the False Claims Act may be stimulating Congressional investigations by the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Grassley, the Committee Chairman, believes strongly in the important role played by whistleblowers in identifying fraud in government health programs. These programs fall under the Finance Committee's jurisdiction.

Editor: Would you give us an overview of the firm's Public Policy and Government Advocacy Practice Group?

Hester: King & Spalding's involvement in public policy goes back a long way. We opened our Washington office in 1979 when Griffin Bell returned to the firm after serving as Attorney General. Sam Nunn joined the firm when he left the Senate in 1996. Eleanor Hill first joined us when she left the Department of Defense as Inspector General in 1999. She left the firm to serve as Staff Director of the Joint Congressional Inquiry on the Terrorist Attacks, and then returned in 2003. Notwithstanding this wealth of public policy talent, the firm did not form a separate practice group - the Public Policy and Government Advocacy Team - until February of 2005. The precipitating factor behind that step was the arrival of former Senator Connie Mack, Tom Spulak, Andrew Woods, Mark Smith, Claudia Hrvatin and Viraj Mirani from Shaw Pitman. Together with Bill Talmadge, Allison Kassir and me, we had a critical mass of experienced professionals that justified forming a free-standing practice group. Former Senator Dan Coats joined us in April, 2005 when he returned to Washington after serving as U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Connie and Dan serve as Co-Chairs of our group. George Crawford joined our group in July 2005 when he retired from the position of Chief of Staff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Jason McKitrick, a healthcare policy specialist from the House Budget Committee, joined us in September, 2005. From our start in 2005, we have built the group to 12 professionals. The 12 of us are supported by a deep substantive bench provided by practice groups throughout King & Spalding.

Editor: What kinds of background and experience do you look for in bringing lawyers into the practice?

Hester: Common sense and an ability to make good judgments go a long way in our practice. We have the terrific luxury in Washington of having a pool of professionals with extensive experience on Capitol Hill or with the Administration to draw upon in expanding the practice.

Editor: And the clients? Who are they, and what kinds of strategic issues do they bring to the practice?

Hester: Our clients are varied. Senator Mack has a strong interest in healthcare, and many of our clients reflect that interest, including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the American College of Radiation Oncologists, U.S. Oncology, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, and the National Coalition for Cancer Research.

Senator Coats is advising clients on a whole range of issues in the political arena. A number of international companies are calling on him for assistance. This derives from his recent service as U.S. Ambassador to Germany. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is one of his clients. Lockheed Martin is another.

In addition to our broad based lobbying activities, we have a political law specialty advising clients about their campaign contributions and lobbying activities. Tom Spulak, who served as General Counsel of the House of Representatives under Speaker Tom Foley, and before that as Staff Director of the House Rules Committee, leads this practice.

Editor: Can you share with us the role that the group played in connection with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's confirmation process?

Hester: President Bush had reached out to Senator Coats to assist with the confirmation of Harriet Miers. When that fell through, the President asked Dan to shepherd Justice Alito in his confirmation. The process took considerably more time than Senator Coats had anticipated, but the group took a great deal of pride in being able to support him as he responded to the President's requests.

Editor: And the role that former Senators Mack and Coats continue to play in a variety of federal panels and other public service undertakings? How do these efforts enhance the image of the group, its connections and expertise?

Hester: We hope that it enhances the image of the group. It is interesting to note that serving as the head of the President's tax reform panel actually removed Connie from any client tax matters while the panel was sitting, and even today we believe that he cannot undertake a representation that would be inconsistent with the recommendations that he has been instrumental in promoting.

Nevertheless, having partners who are called upon periodically by the President of the United States sends a very positive message to our clients and to the general public. If the White House requests our help, we are going to give it. It is the right thing to do, and, of course, it is something in which we take a great deal of pride. The public service legacy at King & Spalding - as exemplified by Griffin Bell - continues to be one of our defining characteristics.

Editor: You have noted that much of the group's work is in the political arena. How do you go about maintaining its non-partisan credentials in such an environment?

Hester: While Senators Coats and Mack are well known Republicans, we have a long history of connection with the Democratic Party. Griffin Bell and Sam Nunn served as Democrats, and among our present contingent Tom Spulak and George Crawford have records of considerable service on that side of the aisle. We are careful to ensure that we have bipartisan credibility. Part of our success with this is due to the fact that Senators Coats and Mack continue to reach out to their former Democratic colleagues in the Senate and House and, indeed, throughout the government.

Editor: How does the practice fit into the firm-wide practice? When you are dealing with Congress or a federal agency on a healthcare issue, for example, can you draw on the firm's healthcare lawyers?

Hester: We fit like a glove. When I spoke about a free-standing practice group, I did not mean an autonomous group practicing independent of the rest of the firm. Healthcare is a good example. In ongoing investigations before the Senate Finance Committee, I work closely with John Bentivoglio and Mark Brown, the Co-Chairs of our FDA and Healthcare Group, who represent a number of pharmaceutical companies. Laura Loeb is a healthcare partner specializing in coding and reimbursement issues whom we work with constantly. It is teamwork that enables us to provide services of the very highest order to our clients. Our group is a resource for, say, the lawyers in our healthcare or international trade groups, and their people are correspondingly an extremely valuable resource for us.

Editor: What about the future? Where would you like this practice to be in, say, five years?

Hester: I anticipate steady growth. When I moved to become head of the Washington office in 1983 the office consisted of six lawyers. Today it has about 150 lawyers and non-lawyer professionals. We have put together one of the strongest and most effective public policy and advocacy groups in Washington. In five years time I would be very pleased if it were to be recognized as such.

Please email the interviewee at thester@kslaw.com with questions about this interview.