Local firm's role in case "very satisfying"

When the U.S. government cast around for legal counsel for Osama bin Laden's former chauffeur, it retained Seattle's staid, conservative Perkins Coie, often referred to as the "gentlemen's law firm."

So as the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday reined in President Bush's plans to try 10 foreign-terror suspects in military tribunals, attorneys from the Seattle firm were at the court to hear what is considered one of the most important decisions affecting the balance of power in many years.

"To hear the opinions read reaffirming the constitutional powers and knowing your case had a genuine role in checking executive overreaching ... is very satisfying," said Charles Sipos.

"It reaffirms your faith in the system," Joe McMillan added.

McMillan, Sipos, Harry Schneider and David East (now with another firm) argued that the president was in violation of federal and international law when he decided in 2001 that suspected terrorists are not subject to the Geneva Conventions' rules of war or the protections of the U.S. Constitution.

Although they have never met him, the Seattle attorneys defended bin Laden's driver and bodyguard, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who has been imprisoned for more than two years.

Defending Hamdan was at first unpopular with other law firms and some of the public — resulting in some criticism that a law firm that also represents defense contractor Boeing shouldn't have a terrorist suspect as a client. But for the most part, the firm's defense of Hamdan has been applauded in the legal community, Schneider said.

For two years, the firm worked 2,500 hours on the case free of charge. Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, a Navy lawyer who was assigned to represent Hamdan but found that he needed help with the complex case, helped bring in Perkins Coie. Swift, who graduated from Seattle University law school, had filed the case in Seattle because that was his last residence before he joined the service.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com