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Barrett’s Husband to Stay at Law Firm Despite Her High Court Job

Nov. 16, 2020, 5:48 PM

Jesse Barrett, the husband of recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, has said he will continue working at his South Bend, Ind. law firm, rather than back away from private practice as some other justices’ spouses have.

Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court in September had raised questions about the career of her husband, a former federal prosecutor who represents corporate defendants in white-collar criminal investigations at SouthBank Legal, where he’s worked for nearly two years.

“I look forward to continuing to help grow and lead SouthBank Legal’s litigation-related practice groups and serve our clients,” Barrett said in a statement on the firm’s website.

The firm’s statement noted the Barretts, who have seven children, are “important contributors” to the communities of northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan. Barrett did not respond to a message asking whether he would work out of Washington or remain in Indiana.

The Notre Dame Law School graduate earlier in his career worked as an associate at Sidley Austin and Barnes & Thornburg, according to his LinkedIn bio. He served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Indiana for 13 years, departing in 2018 to join SouthBank Legal.

Jesse Barrett also teaches trial skills and criminal law at his alma mater, where his wife and fellow Notre Dame Law School grad was previously on the faculty.

SouthBank Legal, which is a trade name for the firm LaDue Curran & Kuehn LLC, is a boutique with less than 20 lawyers. The firm handles a range of corporate and litigation matters, and Barrett’s hire was hailed for adding federal court litigation experience to the firm.

Barrett’s practice has included arguments in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, where his wife was confirmed as a judge in 2017. But Jesse Barrett has not practiced in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which would be one of the few “obvious” conflicts of interest emanating from a lawyer-spouse that could potentially cause a justice to recuse from a case, said Michael Frisch, ethics counsel and an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law.

There are no formal rules dictating when justices must recuse themselves from cases.

Spouses’ Choices

Barrett is far from the first lawyer to have a spouse ascend to the nation’s top court. Those lawyers have chosen different paths in response.

Chief Justice John Roberts’ wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, was a partner at Pillsbury when her husband was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She now works a legal recruiter.

Martin Ginsburg, a New York tax lawyer and husband to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, had already moved into academia when his wife joined the D.C. Circuit. He later taught at Georgetown University and was also a partner at Fried Frank.

Perhaps the closest parallel to Barrett, John O’Connor was a prominent Phoenix-based lawyer at Fennemore Craig when his wife Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman on the Supreme Court in 1981.

Large law firms in Washington were reluctant to hire O’Connor, worrying over potential conflicts of interest and how his generalized corporate practice would fit into the clout-heavy district’s legal scene, according to Evan Thomas’ Sandra Day O’Connor biography “First.”

O’Connor joined Miller & Chevalier but the corporate generalist struggled with the transition to a firm known for its tax expertise, Thomas wrote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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