A once venerable Annapolis lobbying firm is throwing in the towel and giving up its prestigious office space on State Circle as former employees move on and rebrand themselves.
Barbara Zektick, director of government relations for Alexander & Cleaver, announced Friday that she has purchased the 35-year-old lobbying practice that was part of the Ft. Washington-based law firm of the same name. The purchase price is not being disclosed.
The new firm will be known as Z & C LLC — Zektick & Collaborators — and will operate independently from Alexander & Cleaver’s law firm.
Zektick will be joined by Davion Percy, Richard Reinhardt and Shannon Gahs, when the new firm opens on June 26. All four were part of Alexander & Cleaver’s lobbying arm.
Zektick said she hopes to retain clients currently working with Alexander & Cleaver.
The sale brings to an end a tumultuous two years that saw a number of departures from the firm and a series of bruising courtroom fights involving former employees and clients.
“A&C (which is now just Jim Cleaver) expressed an interest in getting out of the lobbying business and transitioning ownership to the team,” said Zektick. “So, I made Jim an offer and he enthusiastically accepted.”
Alexander & Cleaver, which has represented The Daily Record, began as a law firm in 1985.
The lobbying firm, started 35 years ago by former Del. Gary Alexander, a Prince George’s Democrat and former speaker pro tem, was considered one of the top lobbying firms in Annapolis. It boasted staff that routinely sat in the top ten of lobbying firms in terms of annual billings. Former House Speaker Casper Taylor worked for the firm.
But Alexander over the last decade has spent more time working in Florida and stepped back from his role in Maryland and with the lobbying firm.
In recent years, the firm suffered from internal struggles. It lost top lobbyists such as Robin Shavitz, who retired, and Camile Fesche, who departed to join a rival firm, and Lorenzo Bellamy, who left in 2017 to start Bellamy Genn.
The firm was rocked yet again when Hannah Garagiola and her husband, former Sen. Robert Garagiola, left and started Compass Government Relations. The pair took four other Alexander & Cleaver lobbyists — Tyler Bennett, Isaac Meyer, Moira Moynihan and Alexandra Shull.
The departures resulted in a number of lawsuits. Robert Garagiola sued his former employer, seeking a court ruling that he was not subject to a noncompete agreement. The firm later sued the husband and wife team as well as the other four departing lobbyists for allegedly poaching clients.
Alexander & Cleaver also sued a number of high-profile clients, including the Maryland Association for Justice, for breach of contract and for hundreds of thousands of dollars of unpaid fees.
At least three of those lawsuits are still active, according to online court records.
Zektick, who is the sole owner of the new lobbying shop, said she bought the assets of her former employer.
“We will continue to collaborate and help each other,” Zektick said of her soon-to-be former employer. “But no, neither Jim nor Gary will have official roles with the new firm.”
The new firm will give up its prominent space on State Circle, adjacent to the State House. The property is owned by a corporation tied to Alexander & Cleaver.
Instead, the firm will assume Alexander & Cleaver’s lease and operate out of an office on 400 Pratt Street in Baltimore until space in Annapolis can be found, Zektick said.
“We bring tremendous relationships at the state and local level to the table and this is certainly something that will be valuable to Z&C’s clients,” Zektick said. “But the real value of our firm — the differentiator in many cases — is that our practice is about more than our rolodexes. Our team is innovative. We are dogged. Our biggest successes have been the result of collaborative and nuanced policy work that gets legislators and clients where they need to be. This often means less time rubbing elbows on boats and more time in the conference room. But we’ll take it.”