Solomon Watson, President Barack Obama’s nominee to serve as the Army’s general counsel, earned the Bronze Star and Army Commendations Medals for his service in Vietnam and then went on to earn his JD from Harvard.He also spent most of his career as counsel for The New York Times Company, becoming its chief legal officer before retiring in 2006.
His time at the company resulted in some tough questioning from Republican senators at his confirmation hearing Tuesday, the paper reported.
The issue at hand was two articles published in the paper during his tenure that included classified information and whether he agreed with their being published.
Solomon assured the panel he would never be a “leaker” and that he would “take aggressive action” against anyone who leaked classified information. But the panel pushed to know if he would have published the articles at issue. Though he said that there was no violation of the law in publishing the stories, he eventually conceded that, “Were it my decision to make, I would not have made that decision. So I think, that is to say that — no.”
Solomon said he did not personally play a role in vetting their legality because he focused on more corporate issues.
A NYT spokeswoman defended the articles’ publication — “The stories were important pieces of journalism, done responsibly and protected by the First Amendment,” — and noted that editors and not attorneys make the editorial decisions. But, she continued, “We also believe that Mr. Watson would be an outstanding public servant.”
We highlight this article only to note the interesting conundrum lawyers of all stripes face when moving on, especially when they do not always represent popular (depending, of course, on who is deciding popularity at that moment) clients. New York Senator Kristen Hildebrand took flack for representing big tobacco during her stint at Davis Polk and BigLaw attorneys took some controversial criticism recently for their pro bono representation of Guantanamo detainees.
Of course one always must answer for their past work, but a lawyer’s job is to represent the best interests of their client, whoever that client is at the time. It might seem odd to switch sides, so to speak, but as long as attorneys are acting ethically, it’s rarely actually switching sides. Instead, it’s just advocating the proper application of the law as it relates to your client, and different aspects of the law matter to different people at different times.
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