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Martin Mendelsohn

Counsel to the President

After graduation I joined the General Counsel’s office of HEW and was part of the team that drafted the original regulations for the Medicaid program. A year later I joined the Legal Services Program in Washington, DC to provide civil representation to poor people. I stayed in the Washington program for 3 years learning how to try cases, argue appeals and manage people. After 3 years I became the Director of a similar program in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Two years later I was asked to be the first Director of a program in down state Illinois. The program covered the entire state except for the Chicago Metropolitan area. After 3 years I joined the legal staff of the newly created legal Services Corporation to draft their implementing regulations.

Once I was finished I joined the staff of a Congressman from Brooklyn, where I was born, as his Administrative Assistant. The congressman was on the outs with House leadership so there was not much to do. I then joined the Justice Department to create a unit to investigate and prosecute Nazi War Criminals who were in this country illegally. After that experience I became chief counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on International law.

In 1981 I opened a solo practice in Washington DC using my DOJ and diplomatic contacts to represent companies and countries who wanted to do business in the US (from Europe) or in Central and Eastern Europe (from the US). My first client was Simon Wiesenthal of Vienna and he remained my client until his death in 2005. After several years I joined the Washington firm of Verner Liipfert and stayed there until about 2001. I then spent a few years as Managing Partner in the Washington office of Schnader Harrison. During my time at the larger firms I variously represented Mars, Inc. (manufacturers of Snickers, M&Ms, etc.) and negotiated an agreement with the Russian government to build a plant outside of Moscow. As is usual for Mars, Inc. and unusual for Russia, the plant was wholly owned by Mars, Inc. And is to this day. During this time I represented other US companies wanting to enter the emerging markets in Central and Eastern Europe including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mobil (later ExxonMobil), BMW and Lockheed Martin. Among Russian companies I represented: Bank Menatap. Bank Soyez, and Yukos Oil. Pesa of Poland, NAK Naftegaz of Ukraine and Bank of New York-InterMaritime Bank of Switzerland were among my clients as well.

The Russian government hired me to represent it in litigation in the US. A default judgment had been entered against Russia for $234 million USD. I was successful in having the judgment vacated and the case dismissed but Putin balked at paying the bill. While we were negotiating that matter I was in Vienna and approached by representatives of the Ukrainian government and asked to defend an enforcement action brought under the New York Convention to collect on an $88 million arbitral award made in Moscow. As the Russian government was not a party to this litigation there was no conflict. I convinced the District Court in NY and then the 2nd circuit that the award was not enforceable in the US for reasons of jurisdiction. The Ukrainians paid the bill in a week’s time. And Russia paid its bill a week after that.

I was asked in 1998 to join a group of lawyers who, on behalf of Nazi slave laborers, sued the Swiss Banks as well as the Governments of Germany and Austria. All matters were settled for approximately $8 billion USD. There were different methods of distributions to the victims and I served as the US representative on the Austrian Reconciliation Foundation which distributed 500 million Euro to former slave laborers. In 1991 I was appointed by the District Court in Stuttgart, Germany to represent the victims of Josef Schwammberger who was tried and convicted. In 2009 the District Court in Munich, Germany appointed me to represent victims in the war crimes trial of John Demjanjuk. He was convicted in 2011.

I was named a “Hero in Law” by the DC Bar Association in 1999, an Officer of the Legion of Merit by Poland in 2000, awarded the Grand Order of Merit by Austria in 2001, awarded the Medal of Honor by the Czech Republic in 2005, an Advocate for Justice award by the Olender Foundation in 2006, In 2009 Justice Stephen Breyer presented me with the Pursuit of Justice Award on behalf of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists in the chambers of the US Supreme Court and in 2012 I received the Presidential Medal from Brooklyn College.

Syma and I have been married for more than 53 years and have two children—neither is a lawyer though our daughter, Alice, a Ph.D. in Materials Science Engineering, is a science advisor to the Robins Kaplan firm in Minneapolis.