Ex-Hollidaysburg resident reflects on law career

Courtesy photo Hank Walther, formerly of Hollidaysburg, now works as a partner at Jones Day, a high-profile law firm in Washington, D.C.

Hank Walther is where he always wanted to be.

Walther, 42, a 1994 Hollidaysburg Area High School graduate, has spent his professional career in Washington, D.C.

Today he lives in Arlington, Va., and is a partner at Jones Day, a high profile law firm in the nation’s capital.

At Jones Day, he often handles sensitive U.S. and multijurisdiction matters that could significantly impact a company’s health and reputation. He is an accomplished investigator and trial lawyer with significant experience investigating and defending health care fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, securities fraud, False Claims Act and other financial fraud, antitrust, and corruption matters, according to the Jones Day website.

Walther often defends companies that are facing criminal prosecution and civil liability from numerous government agencies and civil litigants in multiple countries. In these matters, he works closely with clients to coordinate criminal defense and civil litigation strategies that will most effectively represent the clients’ various interests around the world. He has conducted fraud and corruption investigations in the U.S. and more than 25 other countries.

“Hank is regarded at his firm and in the D.C. legal community as a leader in the white collar defense field and unquestionably a ‘major player,'” said Adam Hoffinger, a longtime friend and former colleague at DLA Piper and currently a partner at Schulte, Roth and Zabel.

Walther grew up in Holliday Manor. As a teen, he became interested in history, government and politics.

“I thought what I would do would involve law, government and politics. I wanted to get to Washington. It was a natural place that combined all of those things: government, politics and law. There are more lawyers in Washington, D.C., than any other city in America. It seemed like a natural fit,” Walther said.

His high school history and government teacher, Kathie Richardson, steered him toward her alma mater, American University in the nation’s capital.

“It’s a wonderful place. I loved the idea of being in a big city. It was in D.C., in the upper northwest part — a beautiful residential area, not right downtown. It didn’t feel like the city, but it was 15 minutes from the White House. The school offered me the educational product I wanted, and I liked the geography,” Walther said. “I decided early in college that law school would be the next step. I realized I wanted to be a litigator. It was a path I was interested in.”

He worked as a summer associate for Piper and Marbury (now DLA Piper), and the firm eventually hired him.

While at Piper, he became fascinated with white collar criminal defense work, where he represented companies or executives who were under criminal or

civil investigation.

“Hank made his mark in D.C. at a relatively young age — first as a recent law graduate and associate at the world’s second largest law firm, DLA Piper, where he tried cases and examined witnesses in high profile white collar and terrorism cases,” Hoffinger said.

Walther represented the families of the 19 servicemen and women who died in the Khobar Towers bombing — a terrorist attack on part of a housing complex in the city of Khobar, Saudi Arabia, located near the national oil company headquarters of Dhahran and nearby King Abdulaziz Air Base on June 25, 1996.

He called the case a career highlight.

“The case was against the government of Iran on behalf of the family members. I traveled all over the country to meet the family members who had lost people in the bombing. Meeting and working with the family members was incredibly inspiring,” Walther said.

“One of the witnesses was Louis Freeh. I put him on the stand. He was FBI director at the time,” Walther recalled. “In that case, we won several million dollars. That was early in my career. It sticks out as one of the most fulfilling things.”

In 2006, Walther took a job with the U.S. Department of Justice, where he held three positions, rising from a trial lawyer to chief of the Health Care Fraud Unit.

At the Department of Justice, he successfully tried a number of complex fraud cases and led one of the most wide-ranging and significant investigations into foreign bribery in the history of the department, Hoffinger said.

“He’s one of my closest friends and my favorite prosecutor hands down. He’s an agent’s prosecutor. He’s aggressive but fair, gets his hands dirty, and he really trusts the agent’s judgment,” said Patrick Westerhaus, who was an FBI agent for years before joining Wells Fargo and is the man whom Walther worked closest with on several large financial crime cases.

“A lot (of people) don’t understand the value of a partnership, that was what he brought to the table. He made you feel like you were a part of the team,” Westerhaus said.

During his time with the Department of Justice, Walther spent a lot of time on the road and decided that he wanted to spend more time with his family, so he joined Jones Day.

“The nature of the cases I prosecuted was all over the country, doing my job right. I spent 75 percent of the year on the road. There was a ton of travel, many hours away from home. I had a young son at home, so something had to give,” Walther said.

Walther said his work at Jones Day is similar to the work that he did at the Justice Department.

“My specialty is defending companies who are under investigation in multiple places around the world and figuring out how to get them through a tough time in their history,” Walther said.

“He represented some of the world’s largest corporations in high profile and highly publicized cases, such as Walmart in the investigations into bribery allegations in Mexico, and Volkswagen and Audi in the diesel emissions prosecutions — alleging that the German automobile manufacturers em­ployed ‘defeat’ devices to cheat emissions standards and defraud state and federal environmental protection agencies in the United States,” Hoffinger said.

“Major companies, individuals, and other lawyers rely on Hank for his exceptional skill, sound judgment, credibility and gift of persuasion with government prosecutors, regulators and juries,” he added.

Walther has received numerous awards throughout the years, including the U.S. Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service.

“It’s a very special award given to very few people. To get that award was a great honor. That award isn’t given out unless merited. It was tied to work that I and another client did on a major health care fraud case in Miami. We prosecuted 40 people; all but one were convicted,” Walther said.

Walther said that “preparation and luck” have been the keys to his success.

“You have to be well prepared and know your stuff to find solutions to problems. Preparation and falling into luck led me to where I am now, as did being prepared to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them,” Walther said.

He calls Richardson and Hoffinger his mentors.

“I’ve had different mentors at different places. Kathie, when I was in high school; she put me on the path,” Walther said. “Adam taught me a lot about how to be successful as a prosecutor and a lawyer. Adam was always someone I bounced things off of.”

“He’s a first-rate attorney, outstanding trial lawyer, expert investigator and questioner. He possesses the perfect blend of intellect and common sense — the ideal combination for a practicing lawyer and litigator,” Hoffinger said.

Richardson said Walther was destined for success.

“He was one of the three, four or five students you will always remember. He was so committed to doing something good for the country. He was a leader. He was very pleasant and fun — not a bookworm, but fun to be around, as well. I’d be surprised if he weren’t a success,” Richardson said.

Jim Hancuff, Walther’s high school math teacher, agrees.

“Hank was a very good, serious student. He was a good, respectful kid. Hank was a conscientious, reliable kid. You knew he was going to be successful. He was well focused,” Hancuff said.

Walther said he doesn’t get home very often but remembers good times growing up in Hollidays­burg.

“I remember spending time outside, going to the swimming pool and playing basketball. You could go out and run around with your friends,” Walther said. “My mom and I used to go to the Meadows. My grandparents would take us to Ritchey’s Dairy. I loved Meadow’s, but Ritchey’s Dairy was the gold standard for frozen desserts.”

For fun, Walther enjoys traveling with his family, skiing and hiking.

“I’m obsessed with CrossFit. I try to be active,” Walther said.

Walther said he is not sure of his future plans.

“I’m attempting to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. I’ve enjoyed all of my jobs. My time at the Department of Justice as a prosecutor was a special job. I never had a job as exciting. I may go back to the Justice Department in some capacity. I’m happy where I am now and not looking for anything, but if the right thing comes up and it sounds exciting, I’m keeping my options open,” Walther said.