Grudging respect devolves into grudge match

Lawyers in the Exxon case have focused non-stop on the same case going on four months now. Preparation begins early in the morning and some days ends near midnight. Exxon’s lead lawyers fly back and forth from their home in Nashville. The word “grind” comes to mind, as lawyers from both sides get their exercise during the day by popping out of their seats to object.

Throw in seeing the same people in the same courtroom day after day, and it’s probably more surprising the blow-up I saw during a recess Tuesday hadn’t happened sooner.

Stephen L. Snyder and James F. Sanders, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and Exxon, respectively, were walking back from a bench conference at the start of a recess. The two have been legally sparring the entire trial, but it had become more pronounced and frequent the last two days during the testimony of Joseph Mocsary, a key Exxon employee in the plaintiffs’ case. Sanders was chuckling to himself for reasons I do not know, although I have seen him laugh previously during the trial out of incredulity. Snyder loudly asked Sanders to stop laughing.

Suddenly, the grudging respect I had observed between to the two legal teams dissolved into a grudge match, with obscenities and accusations being shouted and fingers being pointed. Several lawyers stood toe-to-toe as if ready to fight in their finely-tailored suits before they were separated.

“There’s too much testosterone in this room,” said one of the lawyers attempting to play peacemaker. “How old are we, 14?”

To their credit, the lawyers grew up quickly, and acted as if nothing happened when the recess ended and Mocsary continued his testimony. But it will be interesting to see how this spat impacts the lawyers’ conduct for the rest of the trial.

DANNY JACOBS, Legal Affairs Writer 

Snider’s ‘Ciao to Chao’ party

A Baltimore plaintiff’s-side employment law firm paid for Labor Department employees to hold a party celebrating the imminent departure of their boss, Secretary Elaine Chao, complete with a “Ciao to Chao” cake and a round of “Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, goodbye.”

The fête was reported in the Washington Post this morning. Columnist Joe Davidson wrote that the employees feel Chao, a Bush appointee, has been way too pro-business.

The law firm is Snider & Associates L.L.C., and the WaPo says it paid $6,000 for the affair. Davidson notes: “A Snider advertisement on the back page of the local’s newsletter notes the firm’s representation of federal employees and says “Local 12 trusts us . . . So should you!”

I’m waiting for a call from Mike Snider of the firm to find out more.

Incoming Secretary Hilda Solis had better hope she rates better than Chao did with career Labor staffers, or she may be looking at a “Solace from Solis” cake in four or eight years. (It’s OK, you can groan.)

CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer