Q&A with former Lt. Gov. Guadagno on her return to law

By Anjalee Khemlani
Jersey City | May 7, 2018 at 7:05 am
From our print edition

After coming up short in her bid to become governor, there was plenty of speculation regarding where Kim Guadagno would go when she finished her term as lieutenant governor.

Would she seek another job in public service or run for another office?

Would she look to continue her role as a leader in economic development?

Would she become a lobbyist or government affairs consultant?

Guadagno said she never had any doubt about her future, telling ROI-NJ that she was eager to return to her first passion: law.

Guadagno announced last week that she has joined Roseland-based law firm Connell Foley LLP as a partner in the Jersey City office. She will be focused on corporate and business law, white collar criminal defense, commercial litigation, corporate compliance and internal investigations.

“I’m looking forward to being back in the courtroom and trying cases,” she said.

The move is not a drastic change for Guadagno, who spent a good portion of her career in the legal sphere before jumping into public service. “I’ve always been involved in the law, whether it was white collar crime investigations in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, or in private practice when I did corporate compliance,” she said. “And when I was lieutenant governor, it was a lot of the same thing.” Connell Foley Managing Partner Philip F. McGovern Jr. said the firm is excited to have Guadagno join it. “Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is an outstanding addition to Connell Foley,” he said in a statement. “Kim is a person of exceptional substance and character. Her breadth of knowledge and experience as New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor, combined with her passionate advocacy for businesses, make her an invaluable member of our firm. “Moreover, her years and results achieved as a federal and state prosecutor speak volumes about her legal ability.”

Guadagno spoke to ROI-NJ about her decision:

ROI-NJ: Isn’t this a change for you from being the state’s business champion to now sitting on the legal side of the table?

Kim Guadagno: I’ve always been involved in the law, whether it was white collar crime or internal investigations in the U.S. Attorney’s Office or in the attorney general’s office, when I investigated large corporations, or in private practice when I did corporate compliance, and then, when I became lieutenant governor, it was a lot of the same thing.

ROI: I’m sure you had a number of landing spots to choose from after leaving office. What were they?

KG: I had a number of options — and I’m glad I had time to think about it — in public service, law enforcement, economic development. But, when you sit down and talk to the people at Connell Foley, you find out, especially if you love the law like I do, that there was really no debate. To go to a firm and work in Jersey City and have access to the wealth of knowledge my partners will have and the associates will have … I just couldn’t pass it up. I’ve never been a partner at a law firm, so that’s a first for me.

ROI: How does your time as lieutenant governor help Connell Foley and contribute to your work with it?

KG: First, I’ll be able to attract business to the firm itself, but I’ll also be working with Connell Foley’s present clients to do what I did as lieutenant governor, which was really … pick up the phone, call the clients, talk to them, see what their concerns are (and) see if we can work with them to make sure they are getting what they need.

ROI: Many people have said it must be nice not to have to work since you have both a husband and, some have incorrectly said, a pension. Why are you going back to work?

KG: I wish I had a pension, but I do not have a pension. I look back to working for two reasons: I have to pay the bills — I have a husband and a 17-year-old son at home, so I have to pay the bills. But, also, because I love practicing law. On many occasions when I spoke, not just to women’s groups but to young people, I said the following: Get the best possible education you can, do what you love to do and, when the opportunity comes, serve in politics and public service and, when you’re done, go back to doing what you loved in the first place — which is, in my case, the law, which is just what is happening now.

ROI: Why Jersey City?

KG: Well, Phil McGovern, who is the managing partner, his office is in Jersey City. Most of the law firm works out of the Roseland office. Jersey City is where the action is, and I wanted to be close to Phil McGovern and Nevins McCann. I ran into Nevins over the years when we did business development in Jersey City; that’s how I got to know him. And, also, when we did the President’s Cup, I was the head of travel and tourism, and he was working with Liberty National Golf Club to bring the President’s Cup to Liberty National Park and that area. I just got to know them as people and as friends. Phil is on Choose New Jersey, so he’s a part of that group, too. It’s just a good fit.

(READ MORE from ROI-NJ on Kim Guadagno joining Connell Foley.)

ROI: What are your thoughts on the current administration’s views and approach to business development for the state?

KG: I’m very pleased to see the current administration kept the economic development model that we actually developed. Gov. (Phil) Murphy saw how beneficial it was to attracting businesses to the state, so he’s kept Choose New Jersey, a 501(c)(3) organization, and kept (the) Business Action Center (of which Guadagno is a founding member). I’m thrilled to see Melanie (Willoughby) take over. And I was thrilled to see (Murphy) kept that business model because it doesn’t cost the taxpayers money to attract businesses. Now, do I agree with everything the governor is doing? Of course not, I ran against him. But he’s doing what he promised to do. He promised to raise taxes on the most taxed people in the country — we’ll see how that plays out.

ROI: Being the former lieutenant governor, heads will turn when you walk into any room or any court. What are the pros and cons of that?

KG: I think right now that is a pro. I don’t see the downside. It didn’t really ever matter whether you were a Republican business or a Democratic business. When the phone rang, I answered it, and the first question was not ‘Are you a Republican or a Democrat?’ the first question I asked was, ‘What can I do for you? and let’s get to work.’

ROI: Are you keeping your cell phone number?

KG: I mean, why wouldn’t you after all these years? And, besides, can you imagine the kind of phone calls that whoever gets that phone number would get? People still call me today, and I want that to continue. That’s good for Connell Foley, and it’s certainly good for keeping consistency.

Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem