ONE OF MY TOUGHEST CASES
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Christian Coalition challenges a school board
Gus Fritchie | Liability Claims and Insurance-Related Litigation | Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC
When it came time for Gus Fritchie to make a career choice, he knew it was all in the family. “Both of my grandfathers, my father and many of my uncles and cousins were judges and lawyers,” he says. “There was really no question about me following them into the field of law.”
After graduating from Tulane University School of Law cum laude, Fritchie specialized in defending public entities, professional liability and insurance-related litigation. His most interesting and difficult case came with the defense of the St. Tammany Parish School Board in a case filed by the Louisiana Christian Coalition.
“I, along with the Board’s General Counsel Harry Pastuszek, defended the Boards’ Facility Use Policy that prohibited the use of its public school premises for religious uses or instruction,” Fritchie says. “The Christian Coalition filed suit in our local Federal court contending that the policy violated the First Amendment rights of its members to have access to a public facilities that were occasionally used by other non-religious groups.”
Though Fritchie’s team initially lost the case in the District Court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and upheld the policy as constitutional. “The Fifth Circuit then granted rehearing en banc, before 16 judges of the Court,” he says. “After argument, we won that round 9-7.”
The U.S. Supreme Court then vacated the ruling and remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit, where a series of strange circumstances threw a wrench in the case. One of the original panel members as well as the original judge had died in the interim; the new judge struck down the School Board policy, stating that it violated the First Amendment.
“The case was difficult because it involved complicated issues of constitutional law, one of my worst subjects in law school,” Fritchie says. “Additionally, opposing counsel were very experienced constitutional lawyers working with the national advocacy group, American Center for Law & Justice.”
Besides the difficulties of the case and the proceedings, the subject matter also caused some dissension. “The case was interesting because we were advocating positions with which many members of the School Board personally disagreed, and there were many twists and turns throughout the various appeals,” Fritchie says. “Moreover, it was probably as close as I will ever be to having an opportunity to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court.”
– Jordan DeFrank
20 years in practice
B.A. from Washington & Lee University – 1978
J.D. from Tulane University School of Law – 1981
Native of Slidell
Prosecuting a media-savvy governor
Pauline F. Hardin | Bet-the-Company Litigation, Commercial Litigation and Criminal Defense: White-Collar | Jones Walker
In the 1980s,when pauline F. Hardin, now a partner at Jones Walker, worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, a case landed on her desk involving alleged fraud in awarding licenses for hospitals. Then-sitting governor Edwin Edwards, who had long been plagued by corruption but had always seemed to charm his way out of trouble, was finally indicted along with several other individuals.
Edwards, among others, was accused of using improper influence to obtain certificates from the state to authorize construction of new hospitals in places where Hardin’s team, led by then-U.S Attorney John Volz, says they weren’t needed. Edwards and his co-defendants then re-sold the certificates for millions.
Reluctant to incriminate the popular governor, many of the most significant witnesses were state employees who were “more concerned about what the governor thought.” The defendants hired high-profile attorneys; in the end, Hardin and the three other prosecutors faced approximately 16 powerful defense attorneys. Edwards was also “media-savvy and knew how to appeal to his constituents, who would comprise the jury,” says Hardin.
“We were in trial every day for four months,” recalls Hardin. The trial resulted in a hung jury. “We knew the re-trial would be a challenge,” she says. “But we had to go forward given the evidence.” The re-trial culminated as Edwards was acquitted. “We believed he was guilty and we all have learned that sometimes you have to do what’s right, even if it’s hard to do and takes years of your life,” says Hardin.
Eventually Edwards’ fraudulence would catch up to him; he was later sentenced to a 10-year term for extortion and corruption and is scheduled to be released to a half-way house in January.
“In the end, it was important, because he used the same type of scheme in selling gambling licenses the next time he was governor, and a new set of prosecutors were able to more quickly understand his modus operandi, and his use of the media to influence the case,” says Hardin.
These days, Hardin keeps most of her cases low-profile. “My clients aren’t interested in publicity and want me to handle their issues discreetly if possible,” she says.
Hardin works on five to six cases a day. “I do a lot of internal investigations now for companies that are regulated by the government to assure that they are in compliance with the law,” she says. She teaches at Tulane Law School and serves on various boards. One of the lessons she hopes young attorneys will learn is “If you enjoy what you do, you’ll be good at it, and it will show and be appreciated … In my professional life I hope to continue doing what I’m doing it now, because I enjoy it.”
– Sarah Ravits
36 years of practice
B.A. from Loyola University New Orleans
J.D. from Tulane University School of Law
Native of New Orleans