Lawmakers Look to Ethics Counsel to Sort Out Foley Mess

Washington lawyer William O'Reilly specializes in complexity. Defending corporations in price-fixing cases and other sorts of complex litigation is all in a day's work.

Good training, perhaps, for facing the firestorm that has engulfed Capitol Hill: the congressional page scandal.

When O'Reilly left the law firm of Jones Day last winter to become staff director and chief counsel of the House ethics committee, the agenda was the conduct of then-Rep. Tom DeLay. Now O'Reilly must coordinate an open-ended investigation that involves House Republicans from Speaker Dennis Hastert on down.

"Bill does not come across as someone with an edge or an agenda. You don't feel that he has already made up his mind," said Phillip Proger, a Jones Day partner, who has worked closely with O'Reilly for the past five years.

It was those qualities that made O'Reilly especially effective in court. He comes across well not only with judges but with opposing lawyers, say his partners at Jones Day.

Proger was not surprised when O'Reilly told him about switching to a government job. He had been with the firm since 1986 and had been a partner since 1996. The challenge of helping revive the ethics panel was the lure.

O'Reilly is "the guy I turned to; he's good at working through problems, he has excellent judgment," said Proger.

The ethics committee essentially was shut down for months last year during disputes over investigative rules, and then spent several more months trying to fill the top staff job. More than 80 people applied.

O'Reilly is a graduate of both the University of Virginia and the University Of Virginia School Of Law.