Just a day or so ago, crisis communications expert Bob Witeck offered King & Spalding a simple bit of advice about the brouhaha over its involvement with the Defense of Marriage Act: Stop talking about it.
But it looks like the firm is taking the opposite route. Instead of letting chair Robert Hays's announcement on April 25—that the firm is withdrawing from the defense of DOMA—be the last word, King & Spalding's Washington, D.C., managing partner, J. Sedwick "Wick" Soller, insists on falling on his own sword. Soller's latest statement, reports sibling publication the Daily Report (subscription required), says:
Although our chairman Robert Hays has issued a short statement saying he assumed ultimate responsibility for any mistakes that were made, I want to make sure the record is clear that I was the member of firm management in primary contact with Paul Clement regarding this matter. As I have reflected on this, despite the fact that our standard client/matter review process was not followed, it was reasonable for him to believe that the firm would accept the matter. This was an unfortunate misunderstanding with a friend whom I personally recruited to the firm and strongly supported. I am deeply disappointed by Paul's departure and regret the breakdown in communications.
Soller's statement certainly sheds more light on how the firm came to accept, then reject, taking on the DOMA matter--and why Clement resigned from the firm in a huff. But the big question is this: Does it take the heat off King & Spalding's management, or does it make the firm look disorganized and defensive?
The impact will likely be mixed, says Witeck, who calls Soller's statement "stunning." It shows that Soller "sincerely believes he is uniquely culpable for the firm's missteps," and that "he wants to 'man up' and clarify who ultimately is accountable for the errors of communications and judgment," says Witeck.
Soller's statement "modestly helps" the firm's contention that the firm "likely would not have accepted the assignment at all," explains Witeck, but for the fact that the "vetting process that was short-circuited."
But Witeck warns that King & Spalding might be opening up another Pandora's box "by continuing to play out the drama in public. . . . It will raise more gossip and questions about how and when big firms are competent to manage these kinds of decisions."
Reader, is it better to tell all, or let the matter drop?