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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Robert Garagiola sues lobbying firm as Annapolis dispute deepens

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)

Robert Garagiola, the former managing attorney for Alexander & Cleaver, is suing his ex-employer for unpaid wages. The firm has been rocked by a legal dispute involving other former lobbyists, who it accuses of using insider knowledge to launch their own firm. (File Photo)

The recently departed head of Alexander & Cleaver is suing his former employer for unpaid wages, the latest chapter of a bitter dispute that has roiled the top Annapolis lobbying firm.

Robert Garagiola, the former managing attorney for government relations for Alexander & Cleaver, is asking an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge to award him back pay and treble damages in excess of $220,000. He is also asking the judge to rule that he does not have a non-compete clause that would prohibit him from opening his own firm or lobbying in Maryland.

Steven Brown, attorney for Garagiola, wrote in the complaint filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court his client was granted permission in September to start his own firm by John Cleaver, one of the firm’s partners. Garagiola then memorialized that conversation in emails to Cleaver and the firm and began transferring clients, wrote Brown, of Annapolis-based Council Baradel.

“Cleaver gave clear consent for Garagiola to start his law firm following Garagiola’s notice of resignation,” wrote Brown. “Even if Cleaver had his fingers crossed when he gave consent, employment has ended, and as of the date of this final is no contractual obligation to Alexander & Cleaver exists.”

Alexander & Cleaver has represented The Daily Record.

Alexander & Cleaver has been one of Annapolis’ top lobbying firms, boasting connections with powerful legislators and representing dozens of clients. Robert Garagiola is a former Democratic state senator. He routinely appears atop the list of highest compensated Annapolis lobbyists as reported to the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

Brown adds that allegations made by the firm that Garagiola is bound by a non-compete agreement is false.

The firm’s initial contract offer to Garagiola contained such a provision, but Brown noted that Garagiola struck the section in a counter offer and the firm later removed the language in its final signed contract.

“There is no non-competition clause in the final MOU,” wrote Brown. “The absences of a non-competition clause is no accident.”

Garagiola’s complaint paints a picture of a firm in turmoil where more than a dozen employees departed citing concerns about lack of pay raises and health benefits. The filing describes the namesake partners as disconnected and unconcerned about staff departures, benefits, and firm morale. Garagiola says the firm failed to provide him with a budget to run the office.

“Mr. Garagiola was a trusted and highly compensated individual,” said Timothy Maloney, a former legislator and partner at Greenbelt-based Joseph, Greenwald & Laake P.A and attorney for Alexander & Cleaver. “Sadly, he betrayed that trust and secretly conspired with his wife, Hannah Garagiola in an attempt to walk away with the firm’s longtime lobbying clients.  After breaching this trust, Mr. Garagiola now seeks to violate his binding contract that prevents him from competing with the firm or interfering with its contracts.  The firm will be filing its own suit against Mr. Garagiola this week.  These matters will be ultimately resolved in a court of law.”

Garagiola’s lawsuit comes at the same time his wife, Hannah Powers Garagiola, and five others are being sued by Alexander & Cleaver after they left en masse in early September to form the firm Compass Government Relations. Alexander & Cleaver claims the six illegally used insider knowledge regarding the expiration of client contracts at the firm, allowing those contracts to lapse to induce clients to join their new venture.

Powers Garagiola has denied the allegations and vowed to “vigorously defend (against the lawsuit) and prevail.”

 

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