Firm Revamp Unites College Friends Turned NJ Power Brokers

Firm Revamp Unites College Friends Turned NJ Power Brokers

 

Law360, New York (April 17, 2017, 3:51 PM EDT) — Attorneys Kevin J. O’Toole and Thomas P. Scrivo have taken different career paths in the 31 years since they sat next to each other on the first day of constitutional law class at Seton Hall Law School, but the longtime friends have each made their mark in New Jersey government and the Garden State’s competitive legal scene.

Now they’re partnering for the first time at the newly rechristened law firm of O’Toole Scrivo Fernandez Weiner Van Lieu LLP, with Scrivo now a name partner at the firm O’Toole and Juan Fernandez started in 2008.

The firm is settling into new headquarters in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and looking to grow under the watch of those power players — one an influential lawmaker and soon-to-be board member of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the other the most recent top lawyer in Gov. Chris Christie’s office and the current chair of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

O’Toole, a Republican state senator, not only welcomed Scrivo, Christie’s former chief counsel, as a name partner in the firm in March but has also added nine of Scrivo’s former colleagues from McElroy Deutsch Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP, where Scrivo was managing partner of the firm’s Newark office. The additions to the firm — which also counts former Christie senior counsel James DiGiulio and Scrivo’s brother, partner Robert C. Scrivo, among its ranks — has been a “natural fit” and something of a coup, according to O’Toole.

“The top law firms came to me asking me if they had a shot of landing Tom as their head of litigation,” O’Toole said.

The duo’s joint endeavor will be fueled by their extensive private practice repertoires running the combined gamut from toxic tort and environmental law matters which have been O’Toole’s forte, to the employment and compliance cases that have made Scrivo a go-to lawyer in these areas. The firm also has government practices dealing with regulatory and municipal matters.

And the firm could soon see more new faces as it handles that work. Now boasting a nearly 40-attorney roster and three other outposts in Philadelphia, New York City’s Empire State Building and San Francisco, O’Toole Scrivo is actively recruiting more talent in practice groups that are thriving, such as health care law.

“Obviously we plan on growing. You go where the work takes you,” Scrivo said.

Change Beckons

Both O’Toole and Thomas Scrivo have arrived at career crossroads.

Scrivo is coming off a nearly yearlong stint as chief counsel for Christie, who has endured his share of notoriety amid a failed presidential bid and the conviction of one-time associates in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal.

In announcing Scrivo’s departure from the public post, Christie hailed his help with garnering approval for 75 new judges, including state Supreme Court Justice Walter Timpone, and said Scrivo also played “an integral role” in helping renew the state’s Transportation Trust Fund and assisting in the stabilization of Atlantic City, among other accomplishments.

In his next public gig as the EDA’s chairman, he’ll helm the agency tasked with proving tax incentives and grants to businesses looking to start or expand in the Garden State.

During his 20-year career as a trial attorney, he represented businesses fending off employment disputes and wanting to enforce restrictive covenants and government entities navigating various challenges. Construction litigation, redevelopment law, tax appeals, public contracts and land use matters likewise compose his resume.

Scrivo, a past president of the Essex County Bar Association, has also gone to bat for clients in the pharmaceutical industry. In 2009, he helped his client Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson unit, defeat a state court whistleblower suit alleging the company fired a saleswoman who complained she was pressured to promote non-FDA-approved uses of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal.

“Strategic and thoughtful” is how a colleague of 20 years, attorney Christine A. Amalfe ofGibbons PC, describes Scrivo. The duo has collaborated on complex employment-related matters facing the government while he was the governor’s attorney and she was outside counsel.

“He quietly considers all the options, listens carefully and then decisively speaks. He does not shoot from the hip or the lip,” Amalfe said of Scrivo.

After 29 years as a lawmaker in local politics, the Assembly and the Senate, O’Toole, whose former firms include Budd Larner PC and the former Picillo Caruso & O’Toole, has decided not to seek another term for his Senate seat representing parts of Essex, Bergen, Morris and Passaic counties.

Instead, he’s focused on his firm and gearing up for his new public service role as commissioner on the highly scrutinized Port Authority on the heels of a scandal-filled period for the transportation agency.

Asked to name the legislation he sponsored that was most meaningful to him, O’Toole, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Senate State Government Committee, said the Madison Holloran Suicide Prevention Act, named for a University of Pennsylvania student who committed suicide. The bill was signed into law last summer and provides students with greater access to professionals and services geared toward helping students in crisis.

O’Toole’s legislative priorities have impressed his fellow lawmakers, even those across the aisle.

“He is always well-prepared, he is passionate advocate for issues that are important to him, he is a tenacious inquisitor and he is a fiery public speaker,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Union County Democrat who is also a lawyer.

As a lawyer, O’Toole has become increasingly sought out by insurance carriers seeking early resolutions via mediation in complex commercial liability and coverage claims.

Asked if their roles with the EDA and Port Authority — public agencies that award contracts and grants to businesses — could pose conflicts of interest given their representation of corporate clients, both indicated their extensive ethics training have prepared them to spot any potential trouble spots.

They both feel it was the right time to transition from industry peers to law partners. Scrivo said he admires the trust O’Toole commands from his clients and peers as well as his uncanny ability to clinch early resolutions, while O’Toole said he’s “marveled” at Scrivo’s accomplishments.

“I’ve been watching him for 31 years,” O’Toole said.

Building Momentum

Moving forward, O’Toole and Scrivo aim to continue the “momentum” the firm has enjoyed thus far.

Environmental, toxic tort, and labor and employment matters are always thriving, O’Toole said.

And from his time in Christie’s office, Scrivo brings what he describes as a “very broad perspective” about the inner workings of government to the firm’s government regulation and municipal and local government practice groups. The firm will continue its “selective” approach to government clients dealing with matters such as redevelopment challenges, high-end tax appeals and separation of powers issues, Scrivo said.

Health care law is booming with an abundance of hospital mergers and the uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act, according to Scrivo, who authored the New Jersey Local Government Deskbook, a regulatory and procedural guide for municipalities.

While the firm has plans to grow, it will take a methodical approach to that expansion, according to Scrivo.

“We will hire one attorney at a time and make sure the fit is right for us and for them,” he said.

Those expecting success for O’Toole Scrivo include one of the partners’ old professors.

Recalling the standout character traits the two men revealed as law students in civil trial practice class, Seton Hall University Professor Denis McLaughlin described a yin and yang of sorts: O’Toole was a more forceful public speaker, while Scrivo took a “more measured” style of presenting, according to McLaughlin.

“But both were extremely effective,” opined McLaughlin, who predicts O’Toole Scrivo is really going to “take off.”

“They bring a lot of talent to the table. They bring a lot of contacts they’ve developed over the years,” said McLaughlin, who is still a professor at the Newark-based university.

Marked by disparate but complementary styles, O’Toole and Scrivo share a common trait: close involvement in every single case that comes through the firm’s door. Each visits every attorney at the office every day and holds regular case update meetings with the team.

“We’re not in silos. It’s very hands-on,” Scrivo said of the day-to-day operations at the office.

New Jersey Attorney General Chris S. Porrino, whom Scrivo replaced as chief counsel in July 2015, is among those who see that the duo has come full circle and anticipates that they’ll form a unique dynamic in private practice.

“I have worked very closely with them both. In addition to being formidable trial lawyers, they are business savvy problem solvers who also see and understand the bigger picture,” Porrino told Law360.

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