Lobbyists who left a top Annapolis lobbying firm are responding in court to a lawsuit filed against them by their former employer.
The response, filed on behalf of Hannah Powers Garagiola and her new firm Compass Government Relations Partners, asks an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Alexander & Cleaver.
“Alexander & Cleaver clearly regrets that (Hannah) Garagiola, who is an excellent lobbyist, has formed her own business and is now a formidable competitor in the marketplace — but its lawsuit is misplaced,” wrote Steven Brown, an attorney with Annapolis-based Council Baradel. “At all times during and since Garagiola’s employment with Alexander & Cleaver, Garagiola comported herself in an ethical and lawful manner. Garagiola is pleased to now be at the helm of her own business.”
The lawsuit filed in September by attorney Timothy Maloney on behalf of the Alexander & Cleaver firm alleges that the six lobbyists named, including Powers Garagiola, plotted to leave the company by using insider knowledge regarding the expiration of client contracts, allowing those contracts to lapse to induce those clients to join their new venture.
The response on behalf of Powers Garagiola and Compass Government Relations acknowledges that partners at the new firm did approach clients of Alexander & Cleaver and offer services. The response also acknowledges that the departed lobbyists sent contracts to potential clients who requested them. The response denies that Compass Government Relations employees used confidential information or made false statements to potential clients.
Powers Garagiola, in a previous interview following the creation of her new firm, said the firm had signed up more than a dozen clients.
A recent review of filings with the Maryland State Ethics Commission found more than a half-dozen clients represented by Compass Government Relations, including the Maryland Association for Justice, an organization of plaintiffs’ attorneys. All of the clients registered as newly represented by Compass Government Relations were previously clients of Alexander & Cleaver.
Powers Garagiola, in a recent interview before filing the response, denied any wrongdoing alleged by Alexander & Cleaver and said she and the other departed lobbyists did not act unethically in soliciting clients.
“We have evidence of that, the fact that we didn’t pull clients in an untoward manner,” said Powers Garagiola. “I get what Gary (Alexander) is doing. He is trying to scare clients from going with us. But our clients don’t know Gary. They send him a check.”
Powers Garagiola said she “did not fail to renew client contracts. That is a false claim by Alexander & Cleaver. I did not ask anyone to break their contact with Alexander & Cleaver. Their claim is false.”
The lawsuit filed by Alexander & Cleaver asks a judge to bar Powers Garagiola, Tyler Bennett, Josh Howe, Isaac Meyer, Moira Moynihan and Alexandra Shull, from poaching from Alexander & Cleaver clients.
All six left in September to form Compass Government Relations.
Alexander & Cleaver also seeks as yet undetermined financial damages. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 4.
Robert Garagiola, the former state senator who managed the lobbying operation for Alexander & Cleaver, left the firm two weeks after the group defection. Robert Garagiola is the husband of Hannah Powers Garagiola.
Last week, Robert Garagiola filed his own lawsuit against his former firm, seeking more than $200,000 in back pay and a ruling that his former employer does not have a non-compete clause that would bar him from working as a lobbyist in Annapolis.
Brown, the Council Baradel attorney, also represents Robert Garagiola.
Robert Garagiola’s complaint alleges behind-the-scenes turmoil where more than a dozen employees departed in recent years, citing concerns about lack of pay raises and health benefits. The filing also describes the namesake partners as disconnected and unconcerned about staff departures, benefits, and firm morale. Garagiola alleges the firm’s partners failed to provide him with a budget to run the office.
Alexander & Cleaver has not yet responded to Robert Garagiola’s lawsuit. The firm is expected to file its own lawsuit against its former lobbying manager.
The response filed on behalf of Powers Garagiola notes that concerns about management ultimately drove her to create her own firm after 11 years at Alexander & Cleaver.