The Fine Art of Litigation and French Cuisine
By Kathie Ragsdale
Robert E. McDaniel’s legal career has spanned almost four decades and 40 countries, in positions ranging from partner in a top New Hampshire law firm to head of legal affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Fellow Bar members might know him as an experienced prosecutor, formidable litigator, and popular adjunct professor – but they might not know he is also an accomplished French chef and an unapologetic devotee of the four Lhasa Apso dogs he shares with his wife, Laurie.
A self-described “military brat,” McDaniel was born in an Army medical center in San Antonio, Texas, but his family has generations-old roots to the North Conway area and he attended high school in nearby North Sandwich.
With good grades but insufficient funds for college, he accepted an appointment to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, graduated in 1973, was commissioned as an officer and assigned to a Coast Guard cutter in Alaska. Two years later, he was transferred to New Orleans, where he did graduate work in philosophy and English at Tulane University.
His Coast Guard experience saw him assigned to a hearings unit, tasked with bringing charges against American Marines accused of wrongdoing.
“These hearings were held in front of administrative law judges,” McDaniel recalls. “I actually got to put people on the stand. I got absolutely addicted to courtrooms. I started to read and study about cross-examining. I went to law school because I wanted to stand up in a federal courtroom and say I represented the United States of America.”
That law school was Catholic University Law School, which he attended after he was transferred to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington D.C. in 1977. After graduating in 1982, he remained on active duty for another year, finally leaving with the rank of lieutenant commander – and two decorations for superior performance of duty.
He then clerked for a Washington, D.C. judge before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he was soon assigned to the Special Prosecutions Unit and specialized in international conspiracy cases.
“The cases usually involved money laundering, fraud, and narcotics trafficking, sometimes weapons trafficking,” McDaniel says. “Sometimes we would start in D.C. with the simple arrest of a drug courier, work our way up the chain of command and end up in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Ecuador or Colombia, then we would write an enormous indictment, sometimes with 25 defendants. Other times, we would start overseas… I was proud to be part of that team.”
For that work, he received two Special Achievement Awards from the U.S. Attorney General, in addition to commendations from the FBI, the Secret Service, and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
But the cases he remembers most are the ones he finds most humorous, “like the fellow who tried to sell counterfeit antique Roman coins to the Smithsonian,” he says. “They had ‘55 B.C.’ on them, so he must have known the savior was coming.”
McDaniel went on to join Devine Millimet in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he led the firm’s white-collar practice. There he met fellow attorney George R. Moore, now executive director of the New Hampshire Bar Association, and formed a friendship that endures to this day.
Both lived in Paris for a time, and both took courses at the famed Le Cordon Bleu culinary school there.
McDaniel’s signature dish has become homard à l’armoricaine, lobster in a light sauce with lemon and a bit of saffron, the lobster removed from the shell and served on a white plate with asparagus as the legs and chives as the antennae – accompanied, perhaps, by a French baguette and a good champagne or dry white burgundy.
Moore, who acknowledges McDaniel “can make a mean meal,” more often makes cassoulet, a rustic white bean stew from the Pyrenees region of France, but recently whipped up bouillabaisse, a Provencal fish stew, for guests.
His admiration for McDaniel extends to the courtroom. “He’s a very talented guy in a lot of different ways, and he’s done it his own way,” Moore says of his friend.
McDaniel has also served as general counsel to several U.S. multi-national corporations, handling international deals and dispute resolution, and was appointed head of legal affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2013. The organization is a group of 47 nations trying to foster productive relations between European nations.
He was professor of law at the European School of Law and Governance in Kosovo, teaching international business and property law by live simulcast to students in Slovenia, Turkey, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Albania, and Croatia. He continues to teach and provide legal advice to judges, public officials, governments, Bar associations, and organizations around the world.
More recently, he has brought that moveable feast of experience back home to Meredith, New Hampshire, where he maintains an office overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee and still attracts clients from around the globe.
“He’s a reflection of the way law has evolved over recent years, with clients all over the world and the technology to litigate cases remotely and keep up with all the new developments that are taking place in the practice of law,” says longtime friend, fellow attorney and former ambassador to Belize, George Bruno.
The two are now involved in a federal case involving a Brazilian immigrant who was promised a visa for work as a confidential informant, only to be told he had 60 days to leave the country after President Trump took office and signed Executive Order 13768.
“The case came from my law office and Bob’s an expert in federal litigation,” says Bruno. “He has more experience than our office was used to having so we shifted the case to his office.” A decision is expected from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals shortly.
McDaniel is also on the faculty of the University of New Hampshire International Law and Justice Program, and teaches courses on money laundering, international white-collar crime, and international trafficking.
When not working, he enjoys reading – especially poetry and history – and is fond of sharing a Rudyard Kipling quote with young lawyers. “…Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,” reads the passage, from the poem “If.”
His Lhasa Apsos also occupy much of his off time, especially the youngest, a puppy named Coco, and McDaniel thinks his colleagues might be amused at “this former military guy and federal prosecutor in love with a dog that weighs six and a half pounds.”
At 69, he’s also thinking about doing some writing, perhaps even a cookbook entitled “Little French Secrets.”
Whether or not he gets around to it, well, he’ll always have Paris.