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Departures rock marquee Annapolis lobbying firm

Alexander & Cleaver poised to go to court over departures, partner says

Bryan P. Sears//September 10, 2018

Departures rock marquee Annapolis lobbying firm

Alexander & Cleaver poised to go to court over departures, partner says

By Bryan P. Sears

//September 10, 2018

Garagiola, Hannah02MF
Hannah Powers Garagiola

A rare breakup within a well-known Annapolis lobbying firm could lead to a rare lawsuit between that firm and its defecting employees.

The departure of Hannah Powers Garagiola and at least four other lobbyists from Alexander & Cleaver has caught the attention of other State Circle power brokers and raises as many questions as it answers. Her former firm, which, at least for the moment, employs Powers Garagiola’s husband, Robert Garagiola, says it is planning to “initiate action imminently” to protect its interests.

Powers Garagiola and her former employer, Gary Alexander, a partner at Alexander & Cleaver, each issued statements in the last few days as the departures became public.

“We wanted to take a fresh approach to government relations and have an opportunity for growth,” said Powers Garagiola, in explaining why she had departed.

Alexander & Cleaver has previously represented The Daily Record.

Gary Alexander
Gary Alexander

In an interview, Powers Garagiola said she had formed Compass Government Relations Partners, which for now operates out of an office on Forbes Street about a mile from the State House. Joining her are four other Alexander & Cleaver lobbyists — Tyler Bennett, Isaac Meyer, Moira Moynihan and Alexandra Shull.

Powers Garagiola said the firm already has “dozens” of  clients in just four days and is looking for larger, more permanent office space. The firm will also do business in Delaware and Washington, she said.

“People are psyched,” she said of the response to the new firm.

Not on the list, for now, is her husband, former state Sen. Robert Garagiola, who has managed the Annapolis operation since 2015.

Alexander & Cleaver is one of the top earning firms in the state. Robert Garagiola most recently reported earnings in excess of $735,000 from Nov. 2, 2017, to April 30, 2018. Hannah Powers Garagiola reported earnings of more than $274,000, according to the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

Alexander said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the announcement that as many as a half-dozen lobbyists were leaving his firm’s Annapolis office.

“For us, it’s business as usual,” said Alexander, who said his firm expects to make some announcements about hiring later in the week. “I’ve been heartened by all the support from the business community. It’s really been great with all the support.”

The defections this week follow two others in the last year. Camille Fesche, a lobbyist and wife of Montgomery County Democratic state Sen. Will Smith, joined Rifkin Weiner Livingston. Lorenzo Bellamy left last year to form the firm of Bellamy Genn with former Del. Gil Genn.

“I think all firms have people who want to go out on their own. That’s normal,” said Alexander. “We’ve always shook hands. We’ve never had anyone do what Hannah is doing now. It’s unusual, but it will all shake out.”

Former state Sen. Robert Garagiola, at least for now, remains at Alexander & Cleaver, where he has been one of the firm's top lobbyists. (File Photo)
Former state Sen. Robert Garagiola, at least for now, remains at Alexander & Cleaver, where he has been one of the firm’s top lobbyists. (File Photo)

The changes have caught the attention of the lobbying corps.

“None of us is really sure what’s going on,” said one lobbyist who asked not to be identified. “Everyone is on edge with this and how it’s going to shake out.”

One of the biggest concerns is how this will affect business in Annapolis as firms vie for clients.

“If we were all standing in a room, we’d all be saying ‘Oh my God, are they going to call our clients?” said the lobbyist.

Powers Garagiola declined to talk about why she left Alexander & Cleaver except to say it was “a dream of mine” to open her own firm.

Sources inside the Annapolis lobbying corps said employees of Alexander & Cleaver have found it difficult to move up within the firm and that there is almost no chance to become a partner.

Alexander declined to comment on Robert Garagiola or his exact status at the firm.

“We have a contractual relationship with Rob Garagiola,” he said. “He has a duty of loyalty and contractual obligation with regard to his work with the firm and what he might do thereafter.”

Garagiola, the former state senator, joined the firm in 2013 working in Montgomery after unsuccessfully running for Congress. He moved to the Annapolis office a year later after completing a one-year cooling off period as required in state ethics law.

Robert Garagiola did not respond to a request for comment but it appears he is leaving Alexander & Cleaver. In an announcement late Friday, Alexander named Brian Hammock, a former adviser to Martin O’Malley, as managing attorney for government relations. Prior to joining, Hammock served as resident vice president for CSX Transportation in the mid-Atlantic.

“He (Hammock) is currently working for clients and bringing to them all his knowledge and experience from the government and private sector,” said Alexander.

In fact, Hammock is expected to attend a scheduled policy discussion for the firm’s clients that will also feature Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Miller has a long-standing relationship not only with Alexander but with Powers Garagiola, who was a former staffer to the Senate leader, and with Robert Garagiola, who was a former majority leader. Miller was also an ally to Garagiola in his effort to run for Congress four years ago.

Powers Garagiola said she spoke to Miller before leaving her current position and said the Senate president wished her well.

“He said he understands that times change,” said Powers Garagiola.

A spokesman for the Senate leader said Miller was not immediately available to comment.

Robert Garagiola is subject to a noncompete clause in his contract, Alexander said, declining to elaborate on its terms. Alexander also declined to say whether others leaving the firm were subject to noncompete agreements.

The firm is exploring legal options and Alexander referred questions to Timothy Maloney, a former legislator and partner at Greenbelt-based Joseph, Greenwald & Laake P.A.

“Alexander & Cleaver has a well-established presence on State Circle,” said Maloney. “Our client expects to initiate action imminently to protect the firm against any former employees who are using confidential information to compete with the firm or who have violated their obligations to the firm.”


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