Warring Congressmen: Who Will Pay These Attorneys’ Fees?

Congressman Boehner has been awarded damages against Congressman McDermott. McDermott has been ordered to pay the other Congressman more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees.

Some national political figures love to talk about their ability to "reach across the aisle" to work with colleagues of the other party. A recent decision by the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia serves as an expensive reminder as to just how deep the political divide is and how tough it is to span it. (Boehner v. McDermott, D.D.C. Civ. No. 98-0594 (TFH), 3/31/08)

Some readers may recall the case of the intercepted cell call in late 1996 involving Congressman Boehner (R-Ohio) and several Republican party leaders, including then Speaker Gingrich. Briefly, a Florida couple taped the call turned the tape over to Congressman McDermott (D-Washington) and he in turn released transcripts of it to the press. As it turns out Federal law prohibits the disclosure of a confidential communication, which is known to have been obtained illegally. The Florida couple pled guilty to federal charges. Congressman Boehner then sued Congressman McDermott for violation of his rights under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

After bouncing through various federal courts, Congressman Boehner was awarded damages against Congressman McDermott in the D.C. federal district court. Boehmer followed up by asking for an award of attorneys’ fees, but the district court held up acting on the request until the appeals were exhausted. Eventually the Supreme Court declined to review the case. Chief Judge Hogan has now ordered Rep. McDermott to pay Rep. Boehner more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees (as we compute it, $1,053,181.78 plus interest).

It remains to be seen whether Congressman McDermott will have to dip into his own pocket to pay the $1 million plus, or will come up with another source of funds.


About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.