Walter Dellinger is now the District of Columbia's lead lawyer in the handgun case that the Supreme Court will consider this term (story here). Dellinger is an all-star appellate and Supreme Court advocate, a professor at Duke Law, and a former acting Solicitor General under President Clinton. He is, to be sure, a very serious dude.
Back when I was clerking, and found myself in more situations leading to unexpected encounters with important people than I do now, I had a brief, somewhat strange encounter with Mr. Dellinger. I'm going to keep this story somewhat vague, and I'm telling it not because I want to drop names, but because it makes me look like kind of an idiot.
During my clerkship year, the Circuit Court heard an appeal of an order by my judge, one that had been issued before I got there. On the day of the hearing I took the externs over to the Circuit Court building to watch the arguments. The place was literally standing room only. There were people lined up all around the perimeter of the peanut gallery. It was a well-known case, but I was still surprised at how many people showed up to watch the arguments. In retrospect this probably had a lot to do with the fact that Walter Dellinger was appearing for one of the parties. At the time, I had no idea who Walter Dellinger was. My co-clerk (who couldn't come to the hearing) had made some sort of comment about how some famous lawyer would be arguing at the hearing, but I hadn't absorbed the information before heading over.
On to my celebrity encounter. As I sat there before the hearing (I got there early enough to find a seat), Walter Dellinger came up to me, shook my hand, and quietly said, "Give my regards to Judge ________. I'm Walter Dellinger." I was completely surprised and didn't really know how to respond, so I just said something along the lines of "Oh, okay," giving him an undeniable deer-in-headlights look. He promptly headed back toward counsel table and that was the end of it. Apparently the other lawyers on the case had recognized me from prior district court hearings and pointed me out to the man himself.
Needless to say, when I returned to chambers, told this story to my co-clerk, and learned all about Walter Dellinger, I felt like a fool for not knowing who he was. Of course, I couldn't really have acted much differently if I had known. As an employee of the district judge overseeing the case, I couldn't get all star-struck over one of the lawyers. But at the very least I may have said, "It's a pleasure to meet you" instead of "Oh, okay." Better luck next time, I suppose.