A former chief legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney is set to argue for former Bush administration procurement official David Safavian later this month in a federal appeals court in Washington.
Steptoe & Johnson partner Shannen Coffin in Washington filed a notice of appearance last month in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Coffin, who concentrates in appellate and Supreme Court litigation, announced Oct. 8 he will argue for Safavian, who was convicted on false statement and obstruction of justice charges in late 2008 as part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Prosecutors allege Safavian lied to Senate and General Service Administration officials about his relationship with Abramoff, who had expressed an interest to Safavian in acquiring two GSA-controlled properties.
The conviction in late 2008 came after Safavian, former chief of staff for the General Services Administration, won a new trial. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in his favor in June 2008 in a decision that questioned the scope of the government's prosecution. The court's opinion is here.
Safavian was sentenced last year to a year and a day in prison. He is free pending the outcome of his appeal.
Coffin, who declined to comment, did not participate in the briefs in the D.C. Circuit. Coffin left the White House in 2007 and rejoined Steptoe & Johnson. Between 1994 and 1995, Coffin clerked for Judge David Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit, who was named chief judge in 2008.
Safavian's main trial attorney, Lawrence Robbins of Washington's Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber, was not immediately reached for comment today about the case. Robbins argued for Safavian during the earlier trip in January 2008 to the appeals court.
Safavian’s lawyers allege the Justice Department’s decision to tack on new charges after the appellate court loss amounts to vindictive prosecution. The new charges—including false statements to the FBI—exposed Safavian to a longer sentence, his lawyers said in court papers.
Attorneys for Safavian said the new charges arose “out of precisely the same nucleus” of facts in the older prosecution. Prosecutors told Safavian’s attorneys that the government would add new charges, after the successful appeal, unless Safavian accepted a plea offer, Safavian’s attorneys said.
Judges Douglas Ginsburg and Janice Rogers Brown are scheduled to hear the case Oct. 22 with Senior Judge Harry Edwards. The Justice Department has not identified the attorney who will argue for the government.
A Justice Department Criminal Division appellate lawyer, Sangita Rao, said in court papers in April that Safavian acted as a “champion” of Abramoff’s interests at the GSA but told ethics officials that Abramoff did his own work on Capitol Hill. Safavian and Abramoff were close friends.