Posted: Feb. 27, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Philadelphia law firm of Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen was not kidding when it decided it wanted to be a presence in Delaware, even if this state can be as inviting to outsiders as a moat.

The firm proved the point last Thursday evening when it hosted an open house at its local office, positioned in the Wilmington Trust building on Rodney Square, that most Delawarean of addresses, and an indisputably Delaware crowd dropped in.

The reception drew Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell, one of whom the Democrats expect to nominate for governor, as well as U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Attorney General Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III and Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner was on the invitation list, but she had a speech to give out of town.

All told, there were about 200 people with lots of legislators, lobbyists and lawyers among them. Like all of the statewide officials, the crowd was heavy with the Democrats who run the state.

The event was billed as a way for Wolf Block to introduce everyone to its newest members -- Joseph C. Schoell, a partner who was counsel to the governor, and Robert L. Byrd, a premier lobbyist who brought associates Cynthia L. DiPinto and Kimberly B. Gomes with him.

Really, though, it was a way for everyone to be introduced to Wolf Block, because this was a firm that people wanted to know. Any idea how many campaign contributions this law practice will be good for? Not to mention that Byrd, whose skill as a political strategist was central to Minner's campaign, has yet to choose sides in the next gubernatorial race.

Wolf Block is a century-old firm with more than 350 lawyers -- exactly the type of over-sized outsider that Delawareans assume will never make it in the cozy confines here -- yet it huffed and puffed and blew into insider-hood by infusing its Wilmington office of seven lawyers and three lobbyists with familiar figures.

Schoell and Byrd joined an operation that already included Thomas P. McGonigle, the managing partner who was counsel to Tom Carper when he was governor, and George J. Danneman, a lawyer who has been the campaign treasurer for Markell.

It makes Wolf Block's Delaware operation a sort of Longwood Gardens of the legal set. Sure, Longwood Gardens is in Pennsylvania, but it was a du Pont family estate, which makes it more ours than theirs.

The reason all those good Delawareans would land in an out-of-state organization turns out to be a matter of logistics. "It's the best of both worlds. It's a small firm with big-office support," McGonigle said. "They let us have our Delaware practice here, and they don't really interfere."

Really, they had better not. Not if they want it to work, as it seems to be. Wolf Block Delaware knew all the tricks for entertaining at the open house.

There was much exclaiming over the really, really jumbo shrimp, pink and abundant, and there were party favors to take home -- impressively dark-toned coffee cups, suitably colored for serious legal offices, with each cup filled with a pen, thick enough to satisfy the stoutest masculine grip, and chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.

Furthermore, the firm also arranged for a bus to go to Dover to bring legislators north, even if the bus inadvertently was sent south without a cooler of adult beverages. This was a crisis. It was averted with a rendezvous of the bus and the cooler in Smyrna.

"We had adult beverages on the bus. They're adults. It will all be in my lobbying report," Byrd quipped.

The reception looked something like a convention of ex-counsels to the governor, going back as far as the du Pont administration 30 years ago. There were David S. Swayze (du Pont), W. Laird Stabler III (Castle), Vice Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr. and McGonigle (Carper), Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn and Schoell (Minner), although the gubernatorial counsel who became a household name could not attend. That would be Thomas J. Capano (Castle.)

With such jolly hob-nobbing, the open house was every bit the First Amendment brought to life, the one that protects the lobbyists who petition the government and the press that writes about it.