Department of Justice Seal
Remarks of Deputy Attorney General
Gate City Bar Association
Atlanta, Georgia
November 14, 2002

Good evening.

Thank you for that generous introduction, Caesar. It is good, as always, to be home. Very good. And, it is hard for me to be more at home – professionally speaking, at least – than when meeting with this wonderful organization.

During the past quarter century, I have had the privilege of watching and sometimes trying to help the Gate City Bar Association grow and prosper to become a force in the Atlanta legal community. I remember meetings at Paschals in 1977. And it is at ceremonies like this one that we recognize that it has grown not only in size but in strength.

And there is a reason for that strength. That strength grows out of the Gate City Bar Association’s commitment first and foremost to each other as colleagues, to the African-American community, to the Atlanta community at large and to our country. The attorneys whom we have gathered here to honor embody that commitment. They are very, very good friends.

Before I move on to talk about the honorees, let me talk about the wonderful commitment that Gate City Bar members have had to each other over the years. I’ll just speak about this from a personal standpoint. And please forgive me for personalizing this part of my remarks. I’ll utilize the speaker’s prerogative. The commitment has been real, it has been enduring, it has been important and it has been continuing. From the time I attended my first Gate City Bar meeting in 1977 to this year, Gate City Bar members have been available to me for advice, support, encouragement and friendship. I have tried to reciprocate over the years with other members. There is absolutely no way I could have become the lawyer that I am today without the input and support of members of this organization.

Let me tell you – Washington is a tough, tough place. It has been said that in Washington some people destroy others’ reputations for sport. Former President Harry Truman was exactly right when he said that if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.

Since I have been in Washington, I have had some slings and arrows thrown my way. When it happened, I called upon a member of this organization – a very prominent member of the bar and a very busy person – to request that he offer words of support to the media. This person not only returned my call within an hour – he offered unequivocally to do the following: speak on my behalf to anyone, anywhere, on background or for attribution, on or off the record. A potentially negative story never materialized when the reporter was told to talk to this individual. This person and I are of different political persuasions, but this organization over the years has always moved beyond petty, unimportant differences – and focused on one theme: our commitment to our profession and to our community.

Maynard Jackson has been a leader in the Atlanta community for as long as I have been a part of it and an inspiring example for up and coming African-American lawyers who want to make a difference in the way we live.

Tom Sampson has been, for a number of years, a superb litigator, recognized for his abilities by Judges and other lawyers throughout the Atlanta Bar.

Marvin Arrington has been an outstanding public servant, civic leader and great and much sought after lawyer for a long time. Each of them has led institutions important to Atlanta’s African American communities – in the case of Maynard – a nationally recognized securities firm. For Tom and Marvin, law firms that have played a pivotal role in providing services to our community.

In this spirit of commitment to our community and our country, I am honored to join you in saluting Mayor Jackson, Judge Arrington and Tom Sampson.

Their great work has inspired me as well. When I became the first African-American United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia in 1982, I understood that I was fulfilling an obligation to our community – the Georgia community and the African-American community. Now, that obligation has became deeper and broader – to include a commitment to protect and defend the entire country – as Deputy Attorney General.

I do have a couple of challenges in my job. Although I planned to spend the weekend here in Atlanta, I will leave and return to Washington tonight. Sometimes I feel like I am drinking water from a fire hydrant. Every day – along with the Attorney General – I meet early – usually around 7:15 – with the CIA. We review the daily international intelligence on the terrorist threats facing our nation and its interests abroad. That meeting is followed by a meeting with the FBI. Every day, we review and try to deal with real and credible threats facing out nation.

When you think about it, we live in historic times. We are among the first group of Americans to face the prospect of mass murder of civilians by a foreign enemy on American soil.

Over 10,000 men went through those training camps in Afghanistan. It defies common sense to believe that they went through those camps for one or two operations.

On another personal note, as the focus of the Department of Justice in terrorism cases has moved from investigation and prosecution to prevention and disruption – that is, saving lives – I have become very satisfied with what I do.

I can tell you that I have never had a more righteous cause or important case.

It is in this context that I would like to urge some of you – the members of this great organization – to consider public service in general and working at the Department of Justice in particular. You will find satisfying and rewarding career opportunities awaiting you.

We need you – and given some of the reported job dissatisfaction in our profession – you may need us.

The Attorney General and I are committed to having as diverse a workforce in the Department of Justice as possible. This is not just the right thing to do, it is essential that this be our goal. The reason is simple. If the Department is going to continue to enjoy the confidence and respect of ALL Americans, its workforce must be as diverse as possible.

Let me briefly talk to you about another important challenge I face as Deputy Attorney General.

It is not just the work of terrorists who can wreck havoc on our nation’s well-being. Because of the spate of corporate scandals we have experienced over the past several months, many Americans have lost confidence in our nation’s markets. Our markets have lost trillions of dollars. These corporate scandals have affected Wall Street and Main Street, large institutions and individual pensioners. The President has asked me to chair the Corporate Fraud Task Force – an interagency effort to root out corporate fraud. We have worked hard and have had some great, early successes – from Enron and Arthur Andersen to WorldCom and Adelphi. For example, we have convicted over 50 individuals since the Task Force was formed last summer.

But there is an aspect of corporate scandals that we lawyers need to seriously look at, an aspect I would like to talk about tonight very briefly.

People many times ask me about the corporate scandals – where were the professionals? Without question, professionals were close to the activity in many of these cases. We will be taking a careful look at the role of professionals.

What about our profession? I see two primary mistakes lawyers have made in these matters.

First, they forgot who their client is. As we learned in first year corporate law class, when you represent an entity, your client is the entity itself – not the general counsel or the management.

Second, lawyers have failed to give their clients independent legal advice. This is the major duty of our profession – to give our client independent, conflict-free advice. If we don’t, we are simply trading off the integrity of our profession. I understand that the pressure can sometimes be intense to go along, as accountants have sometimes gone along with a company’s improper practices on the theory that they are only "cutting corners." We lawyers simply have to get beyond that type of thinking.

What I strongly believe is this: Like other professions, law is a calling, not just a business. We MUST put our ethical obligations to our clients and our own personal integrity FIRST.

We will persevere in both of these fights – terrorism and overcoming corporate greed on the part of some – and it is the strength drawn from our community, including this organization, that I try to bring to my role in defending our great country.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to enjoy this evening with you and to share the stage with the great attorneys and friends whom you are inducting into the Hall of Fame.

God bless each and every one of you.

*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.