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Mukasey, a subprime-lender defender

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KAI RYSSDAL: The president’s nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey, is best known as a federal judge. But for the past year he’s been in private practice at a New York law firm, .where he helped pick up new clients needing white collar criminal defense. Say, subprime lenders who might have run afoul of the law. Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports.

Steve Henn: Mukasey’s law firm, Patterson Belknap, began trying to drum up business from the subprime mortgage industry this July. A press release boasted that if there were allegations of criminal wrongdoing, Michael B. Mukasey and the firm’s white-collar defense team was uniquely qualified to help.

Paul Light: It is an unseemly association.

NYU professor Paul Light is an expert in the presidential appointment process. He says any link with the subprime mess doesn’t help Mukasey.

Light: It is a problem in the sense that this is very high in the headlines right now, and it has caused great disruption in the financial markets.

Mukasey couldn’t be reached for comment. And his firm declined to make his clients’ names public. But legal experts say that’s not surprising. Even revealing a client’s name could tip off government investigators and violate attorney client privilege.

John Steele teaches legal ethics at UC Berkley.

John Steele: To reveal that to the government as you move into a government job would really inflict serious damage on your client. It’s something lawyers can’t do.

Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein says Mukasey may have to quietly recuse himself from cases he handled in private practice that haven’t become public.

Paul Rothstein: This is the hardest question in all of legal ethics. How an attorney can take himself off of a case without revealing something bad about his client.

But Paul Light thinks there is a simpler solution.

Light: He doesn’t have to name names. What he has to do is name subjects.

Light says he is sure those subjects will be explored at the Senate confirmation hearings.

In Washington I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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