The association representing Maryland’s tort lawyers is asking a Circuit Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit against it filed by the group’s former lobbying firm.
In a filing in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, the Maryland Association for Justice claims that a mass exodus of lobbyists last fall from Alexander & Cleaver allowed the group to exercise its right to terminate a newly consummated contract.
The association, in its motion, wrote that Alexander & Cleaver’s lawsuit “fails set forth any claim upon which relief can be granted. In fact, it is undisputable that almost immediately upon inducing MAJ to enter the agreement, Alexander & Cleaver breached the express terms of the agreement when Rob Garagiola and other members of the government relations and solutions practice resigned on September 4, 2018. When MAJ exercised its right to terminate the agreement by its own terms, Alexander & Cleaver did nothing. Indeed, the complaint does not offer any facts, because there are none, to support the propositions that the plaintiff ‘cured’ its breach or that it is otherwise entitled to services that were never provided.”
The association went on to say that when it gave a required 30-days notice, the lobbying firm failed to respond or communicate with the group and ultimately returned the association’s digital file on a computer thumb drive.
Alexander & Cleaver is suing the association for more than $282,000 plus interest and attorneys’ fees, citing breach of contract.
The filing is the latest in a back-and-forth dispute between the prominent lobbying firm and some of its major former clients and employees.
The association gave notice last September that it was terminating its contract with the firm once it learned that Garagiola, his wife, Hannah Powers Garagiola, and five others had abruptly resigned from the lobbyist. Powers Garagiola and the others immediately formed Compass Government Relations Partners. Robert Garagiola has since joined as a consultant with the firm.
The Maryland Association of Justice and a number of other clients later abandoned Alexander & Cleaver and followed those lobbyists to the new firm.
In response, the lobbying firm has filed a slew of lawsuits against its former employees and clients.
James Cleaver, head of the lobbying firm, declined to answer questions about the motion to dismiss, saying that a response could be filed in Prince George’s County Circuit Court as early as Wednesday.
In a statement last month, Cleaver said the lawsuit against the association and other clients represented the first such legal actions in 30 years.
“Every client Alexander & Cleaver represents has an absolute right to leave us without prejudice so long as they pay us what they owe,” Clever wrote in October. “Our contracts with our clients are considered engagement agreements. As such, the entire fee is due upon execution. Our contracts clearly state that. Once we enter into such a contract, ethical rules prevent us from seeking or representing anyone with competing interests.”
None of the brief lawsuits filed by Alexander & Cleaver outline any specific work performed for its clients for which it was not paid.
The latest court filing by the tort lawyers association represents the latest in a series of public disputes for the well-respected firm that has been repeatedly among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis and which had attracted dozens of clients.
Robert Garagiola, a former state senator who was routinely among the top lobbyists in earnings reported to the state ethics commission, preemptively filed suit against his former employer seeking a court blessing on the formation of his separate law practice before Alexander & Cleaver could claim he violated an alleged noncompete agreement.
Garagiola’s filing in the now-closed case laid out a picture of a once venerable firm in turmoil. More than a dozen employees had departed, citing concerns about lack of pay raises and health benefits. The filing described the namesake partners as disconnected and unconcerned about staff departures, benefits, and firm morale. Garagiola alleged that the firm failed to provide him with a budget to run the office.
The firm later filed suit against Hannah Powers Garagiola, Tyler Bennett, Josh Howe, Isaac Meyer, Moira Moynihan and Alexandra Shull, and asking a judge to stop them from poaching from Alexander & Cleaver clients. That case remains open.
MAJ is one of six entities being sued by Alexander & Cleaver. The other five are Terrapin Pharmacy, McAfee, Maryland Vapor Alliance, Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition and the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association.
The five are being sued in small claims court in Prince George’s County District Court for between $12,000 and $22,000 each. In each case, Alexander & Cleaver cites breaches of contract and unpaid bills for lobbying services rendered.
Cleaver in October said the firm had reached agreements with McAfee and Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition and would dismiss those lawsuits. Those cases remain open more than a month later, according to online court records.
Cleaver, in his email, restated that the firm has dropped the lawsuit against Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition.