Q&A With K&L Gates' John Krill

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Q&A With K&L Gates' John Krill
Law360, New York (September 09, 2009) -- John P. Krill is a partner in K&L Gates
LLP’s Harrisburg office and co-coordinator of the firm’s appellate, constitutional and
governmental litigation practice group. He has extensive experience in complex
litigation in appellate, constitutional, administrative and environmental law. He has been
lead counsel in numerous cases in various jurisdictions and has represented clients in
both state and federal appellate courts.
Krill recently argued successfully before a special panel of judges from the Second,
Seventh and Tenth Circuits to affirm dismissal of a civil rights action alleging members
of all three branches of state government conspired to fix cases in exchange for
legislation. He also obtained a unanimous reversal from the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court in a case challenging the governor's use of the line-item veto.
Q: What is the most challenging case you've worked on, and why?
A: The most challenging case has been Vieth v. Jubelirer, 124 S. Ct. 1769 (2004). I
defended the Pennsylvania General Assembly's congressional redistricting plan against
a claim that it was unconstitutional, extreme, partisan gerrymandering. I handled the trial
before a three-judge court as well as the appeal to the Supreme Court.
The redistricting map was indeed not pretty. One county was split between six
congressional districts. One incumbent congressman testified that his home was put in
a new district, but when he left his house and got to the sidewalk to get into his car, he
was in his old district. After a lengthy trial featuring experts on politics, use of census
data and political remedies, the court ruled in our favor and upheld the plan.
After the Supreme Court took the case for briefing and argument, numerous amici filed
briefs opposing us. The amici included political scientists, historians and political
groups. Only one amicus was on our side. Rebutting the arguments of amici required
research in their fields of expertise.
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By the time the Supreme Court heard the case, elections under the plan had resulted in
a partisan shift in the state congressional delegation.
The challenge in the Supreme Court, in briefing and argument, was to convince a
majority that any tests or standards for redistricting that the appellants, the amici or
even the justices themselves could propound would always have partisan, political
ramifications. This would mean that there was no judicially manageable standard for
depoliticizing redistricting.
I'm happy to say we succeeded in persuading a majority.
Q: What do you do to prepare for oral argument?
A: I try to develop illustrations of our main points that are fresh and haven't appeared in
any of the briefs. I like to find analogies in other areas of the law or ordinary experience,
to show the consequences of adopting a position.
I also review the briefs and key cases. I enjoy having a moot court that is hot, when
everyone has read the briefs and thought about the case.
Q: What are some of the biggest problems with the U.S. appeals process?
A: The practice of designating opinions not reported, not for publication or not for
citation should be abolished. If a decision only affects the parties and has no
precedential value, it is no different than a private arbitration. Judges who don't want to
be pinned down by publishing their opinions should go into the booming arbitration
Q: Aside from your own cases, which cases currently on appeal are you following
closely, and why?
A: I follow cases and prelitigation controversies that involve issues of federalism. The
larger, more activist role assumed by the federal government recently in the economy
and in expenditures is likely to lead to some interesting issues about where, if any, are
the outer boundaries of congressional power, especially vis à vis the prerogatives of the
The stimulus law, for example, creates potential clashes between governors and state
legislators under state constitutions governing the appropriation and use of funds.
Q: Outside your own firm, name one lawyer who's impressed you and tell us why.
A: Greg Dunlap, deputy general counsel for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
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His briefs are always very well written, and his arguments are dialogues with the judges.
I've seen him argue many times and have been both opposed to him and on the same
Q: What advice would you give to a young lawyer interested in getting into your
practice area?
A: First, learn to write briefs in non-legalese English, particularly in an appellate brief's
statement of facts. Second, look for opportunities to be on your feet in court.
K&L Gates has a pro bono program that has given the associates in the appellate
practice group the opportunity to argue in the circuit courts of appeal. If your firm has
such a program, get involved. If your firm doesn't have one, start one.
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