Posted: April 27, 2008
A PRIVATE LAW FIRM HARBORS A PUBLIC SIDE
By Celia Cohen
The law firm of WolfBlock is not a government office, but it could play one if it wanted.
The legal practice appears to be trying to gobble up every former public official who becomes available. Its latest additions come from the wholesale swallowing of the boutique firm of Oberly Jennings & Rhodunda.
The new WolfBlock partners are Charles M. Oberly III, who was a three-term Democratic attorney general, Kathleen M. Jennings, who was a chief deputy attorney general, and William J. Rhodunda, who was a New Castle County attorney.
They will join an office that already includes Thomas P. McGonigle, who was counsel to Democratic Gov. Thomas R. Carper before he became a U.S. senator, as well as Joseph C. Schoell, who was counsel to Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, Jennifer B. Ranji, who was deputy counsel to Carper, and Shawn P. Tucker, who was a New Castle County attorney.
The firm also has a government relations arm that includes Robert L. Byrd, a premier Dover lobbyist who is part of Minner's kitchen Cabinet and used to be a Democratic state representative himself.
It is clearly a public-minded office, although the pay is much better.
Oberly, Jennings and Rhodunda, along with two associates, will relocate this week to the Wilmington office of WolfBlock, a century-old firm with 300 lawyers and government-relations professionals in its Philadelphia headquarters and other cities from Boston to Washington.
Their arrival will swell the office, located in the Wilmington Trust building on Rodney Square, to 18 professionals -- 15 lawyers and three lobbyists.
"They're very good lawyers," said McGonigle, the managing partner for Wilmington. "The government experience that each of these folks have had is very favorable to the firm and the clients."
It is also a guaranteed way for an out-of-state firm to make its presence count in Delaware.
Oberly and Jennings in particular bring experience in white-collar criminal cases, a legal area that WolfBlock wants to expand. The two have been in private practice since they left the Attorney General's Office after Oberly ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1994.
Oberly has had his share of high-profile clients. He was part of the defense team for Thomas J. Capano, the state's most notorious murderer, and recently represented former state Rep. John C. Atkins, who was forced to resign last year after a night of carousing and throwing his weight around.
There was no saving Capano, but Oberly got Atkins out of the legislature with enough of his reputation intact to be able to change parties, from Republican to Democrat, and go after his old seat in Sussex County this November.
McGonigle has tried to entice his new partners to WolfBlock since he arrived himself in 2005, but Oberly said they have been dealing with offers from large firms for 10 years and originally were not interested. McGonigle kept trying until they were.
"I've been thinking of recruiting them since I got here," McGonigle said. "It just took me a while."