Last Saturday, Herbert J. Miller Jr., known as “Jack” to his friends and colleagues, died at age 85 in Rockville, Maryland. Miller, a native of Minnesota, came to Washington after service in WWII, graduated from George Washington University’s law school in 1949, and went to work at Kirkland & Ellis, one of the city’s best firms. Thus began one of the most varied and impressive legal careers in a city that hardly lacks great lawyers.
In 1961, Miller was persuaded by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to leave private practice and join the Justice Department as head of its criminal division. For the next four years, he was the leading figure in the successful prosecutions of Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa; political fixer Bobby Baker; and many of the biggest names in organized crime. On several occasions his opponent in the courtroom was that legendary advocate, the late Edward Bennett Williams.
In 1965, Miller went into private practice and founded Miller, Cassidy, Larocca & Lewin, which, until its dissolution in 2001, was among the handful of Washington’s most high-powered firms. In his years with the firm, Miller represented organizations as diverse as National Public Radio and NASCAR. He kept in touch with Robert Kennedy and was a pallbearer at the latter’s funeral in 1968; the following year he was retained by Sen. Edward Kennedy for a time after the Chappaquiddick accident. (However, Miller’s own views were those of a liberal Republican; he ran for lieutenant governor of Maryland on the GOP ticket in 1970, his only venture into the political fray, but was defeated.)
But as famed as some of Miller’s clients were, all of them pale in prominence compared to the man whom the attorney represented for nearly two decades: Richard Nixon. Miller was first engaged by the former President just after his resignation in 1974, and from then until RN’s death (and for a number of years afterwards, representing his estate) Miller diligently labored on behalf of his client’s legal interests.
In the first weeks of this work, his task was to deal with Gerald Ford’s White House regarding the pardon which the thirty-eighth President gave his predecessor in September 1974. Then, through the years, Miller carefully worked on the litigation over the ownership and accessibility of the White House tapes, which culminated in the agreement which made them accessible to the public. Among the other Nixon-related cases in which he was involved was the one which led to the 1982 decision by the Supreme Court that the former President could not be sued in civil court for his actions during his time in office – a decision whose ramifications are felt every time a Chief Executive returns to private life.
But to say all this still does not indicate how versatile Miller was. He could argue the profoundest constitutional issues before the Supreme Court and then – as he did once – defend his mother-in-law on a speeding charge in traffic court. His bulldog tenacity in a courtroom was offset by amiability and good humor outside it. Truly, he was an exemplary figure in his profession.