Nacchio lawyer a master of the appeal
Maureen Mahoney has argued 18 cases before the Supreme Court -
and has lost only two of them.
By Greg Griffin, Staff Writer
Monday, July 23, 2007
Convicted former Qwest chief executive Joe Nacchio hired an
attorney with a stellar record before the nation's highest
court, a place that experts say his case may never go.
Maureen Mahoney has lost just two of 18 arguments before the
U.S. Supreme Court.
Her victories include landmark decisions overturning Arthur
Andersen's criminal conviction and preserving the University of
Michigan Law School's diversity program. She argued more cases
before the high court during its latest term than any other
Mahoney is equally seasoned at the appellate court level, where
Nacchio's battle to overturn his insider-trading conviction
likely will be won or lost. Her appellate clients have included
Union Pacific and DuPont.
Nacchio's sentencing on 19 counts of insider trading is
scheduled for Friday in Denver's U.S. District Court. His
attorneys have vowed to appeal his April 19 conviction to the
10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which they can do after
"I think his chances are with the 10th Circuit. If he loses
there, I don't think the issue is sexy enough for the Supreme
Court justices to consider," said Columbia University law
professor John Coffee. "I don't see any general legal issues
for the Supreme Court to decide."
Nacchio's appeal is likely to be based on issues such as
improper venue or jury instructions. His attorneys could argue
that they were barred by U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham
from presenting a defense based on Nacchio's knowledge of
top-secret government information. Reversals and acquittals on
appeal are rare, and the chance of getting a Supreme Court
review are slim.
Those who know Mahoney, however, say there are few who can take
an appeal further.
"Maureen is a magnificent appellate advocate, and Joe Nacchio is
lucky to have her as his counsel for the 10th Circuit," said
Christopher Koenigs of Denver's Sherman & Howard.
Koenigs and Mahoney won a Supreme Court ruling in April for
Rockwell International in a long-simmering dispute over
whistle-blower James Stone's claim to part of a $4.2 million
Mahoney, 52, declined to comment for this article.
She often tells the stories of how she ignored the career advice
of two mentors -- her father and Supreme Court Justice William
Rehnquist, for whom she clerked.
When Mahoney was 8, she told her father, a personal-injury
attorney in South Bend, Ind., that she wanted to be a lawyer.
Trying to protect her, he told her that the law was no place for
a woman. Instead, she set a trajectory that landed her at the
University of Chicago Law School.
Later, she received Rehnquist's standard advice to departing
clerks: Return home and practice law there. She stayed in
Washington, largely because her husband, William Crispin,
practiced law there.
Another Mahoney story comes from her ritual of eating a doughnut
before making an oral argument. Her high school swimming coach
told her the sugar would give her energy, and the habit stuck.
Those who have worked with Mahoney describe her as kind and
"For someone who is so accomplished and well-regarded in the
halls of power at the highest levels, she is as modest and
unassuming a person as you'll ever meet," said Marvin Krislov,
vice president and general counsel of the University of
Seeing to core of issue
In the courtroom, Mahoney is known for meticulous preparation,
quick thinking on her feet and infallibility -- important traits
for an appellate attorney, who must answer questions from a
panel of judges.
Mahoney is a Republican who often represents corporations, and
she has benefited from what is perceived as a business-friendly
court under Chief Justice John Roberts.
But there have been notable exceptions, such as the University
of Michigan case in 2003, in which Mahoney defended affirmative
action in an admissions program. In 1999, she represented the
U.S. House of Representatives in its successful effort to change
Census Bureau sampling methods.
"It's not just that she is thoroughly prepared and can answer
questions the judges want answers to, it's also that she frames
the issues in a way that focuses on what the weaknesses are in
the other side's case," said John Payton of WilmerHale in
Washington, who also represented the University of Michigan
before the Supreme Court.
Payton was particularly impressed with Mahoney on the Andersen
case. She persuaded the high court to reverse a verdict that
had been upheld on appeal. Much of that battle was won in
framing the issue in court briefs, he said.
"Everybody had written off Arthur Andersen. They had no
chance," he said. "The challenge was to see through the
conventional wisdom to figure out what this case was really
about. ... It's the same with Nacchio. She has to look through
it and see issues that the jury didn't see."
Staff writer Greg Griffin can be reached at 303-954-1241 or
Maureen Mahoney file
Born: Aug. 28, 1954, South Bend, Ind.
Education: B.A., political science, Indiana University; J.D.,
University of Chicago Law School
Experience: Clerked for 7th Circuit Judge Robert Sprecher and
Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. Joined Latham &
Watkins in 1980; worked for U.S. solicitor general's office
from 1991 to 993, when she returned to Latham.
Family: Married with two grown children
What they're saying: "For someone who is so accomplished and
well-regarded in the halls of power at the highest levels, she
is as modest and unassuming a person as you'll ever meet." --
Marvin Krislov, vice president and general counsel, University
- Supreme Court reversal in 2005 of criminal conviction of
accounting firm Arthur Andersen for destruction of evidence
prior to Enron investigation.
- Supreme Court affirmation in 2003 of the University of
Michigan law school's affirmative action program.
- Supreme Court rejection in 1999 of Census Bureau's use of
statistical sampling methods. Mahoney represented the U.S.
House of Representatives.