In remarks he gave Tuesday to an audience at Duquesne University, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke highly of one Duquesne graduate in particular.
The Duquesne alum, he said, is a "very, very dear friend" who was instrumental during his contentious confirmation hearings. He was, he said, "the person with whom I spent the most time during the most difficult times." At the end of his remarks, Justice Thomas thanked Duquesne, not just for inviting him to speak, but also for educating his friend.
"Whoever educated him, whichever professors educated him ... I want to congratulate you," Justice Thomas told the 1,200 people in attendance. "The product of your work, the honesty, the energy, the integrity, is all embodied in this young man named Mark Paoletta."
An attorney at the DLA Piper law firm in Washington, D.C., Mr. Paoletta was not in attendance Tuesday, but the remarks Justice Thomas made about him were relayed by a reporter.
"Classic Clarence Thomas," Mr. Paoletta said. "Just a wonderful guy who likes to recognize others."
Mr. Paoletta, 50, originally from Fairfield, Conn., earned his law degree from Georgetown University, but he completed his undergraduate education at Duquesne, graduating in 1984 with majors in English and political science and a minor in theology.
He met Justice Thomas, then chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in 1983 through Tom Melady, a mentor of his and another Duquesne graduate who has served as an American ambassador but who at the time was president of Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
They met again six years later, when Mr. Paoletta, working in the George H. W. Bush White House in the office of presidential personnel, contacted him because they were considering the EEOC chair for a judicial appointment to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"He and I just really clicked," Mr. Paoletta said. Later, when Justice Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, Mr. Paoletta had become assistant counsel to the president and was involved in the confirmation hearings, which were marked by allegations of sexual harassment against Justice Thomas.
In his 2007 memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," Justice Thomas wrote that he was speaking several times a day with Mr. Paoletta during the confirmation process. Mr. Paoletta, who didn't want to speak in detail about the confirmation process, did say this:
"He's a dear friend. He's a hero to me. We went through the confirmation, and in those types of battles, you get very close."
Shortly after Justice Thomas was confirmed, Mr. Paoletta was diagnosed with cancer, and Justice Thomas was there to support him.
"He literally called me or visited me every single day," he said.
After his White House experience, Mr. Paoletta's career has included work in private practice and on Capitol Hill. Now, as a partner in DLA Piper's federal law and police group, his work involves representing clients in government investigations.
His friendship with the Supreme Court justice he helped to get confirmed has endured, and at Duquesne, Justice Thomas described Mr. Paoletta accompanying him to New Jersey to visit his favorite primary school teacher.
Upon learning that Judge Thomas would be visiting his alma mater, Mr. Paoletta gave him this advice:
"I said, if you're going out to lunch, have them take you to Primanti Bros."
Judge Thomas apparently had the famous Pittsburgh sandwiches come to him, according to a news release from Duquesne University. He had Primanti sandwiches delivered to the law school for lunch Wednesday.