Cassandra Faline Roberts is nothing if not focused. A partner at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, Roberts has dedicated her practice to workers’ compensation cases. “It is my passion and my preference,” says Roberts, who’s been listed in the The Best Lawyers in America for workers’ compensation since 2003.
A graduate of Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University, the Delaware native clerked with the Superior Court of Delaware, where she assisted with the resolution of workers’ compensation appeals. She joined Young Conaway in 1989.
Most attorneys in Roberts’ area of practice represent either insurers or injured workers. Roberts, however, represents injured workers, insurance carriers and uninsured employers. “It gives you an edge,” she says. “You can step into the head of your opponents because you’ve been in the fox den.” There isn’t much that an insurance company’s attorney would present in court that would surprise her.
A self-described “frustrated doctor,” Roberts relishes diving into the medical material that dominates workers’ comp cases, which are steeped in depositions. “It’s sexy if you like legal medicine,” she says.
While many cases involve the common repetitive orthopedic injuries, Roberts’ caseload offers enough diversity to keep her engaged. She handled one of the first—if not the first—scleroderma cases in the United States linked to occupational exposure to silica dust.
Another successful case involved a client who developed a lung disease and vocal impairment related to mold in the air return system at Robinson Hall, an older building on the University of Delaware campus. “A real hit parade of medical experts [for the defense] testified on some complex issues, including alleged psychosis,” Roberts says.
Roberts’ practice runs at a fast pace, but she makes herself available to clients and answers her own phone. She carefully educates clients about what they can expect and what the law will allow. For instance, there is no recovery for pain and suffering in a workers’ compensation case.
“When they are informed and they partner with you in the process, it makes for an optimal attorney-client relationship,” she says.
Despite her caseload, she finds time to publish a quarterly newsletter, “The Delaware Workers’ Compensation Case Law Update,” a 12-year-old endeavor. She also works on her blog, Delaware Detour & Frolic (www.cassandraswcblog.com), which spotlights Delaware Industrial Accident Board decisions involving hot topics. In 2009, LexisNexis included Roberts’ blog on its Top 25 Blogs for Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Issues.
Page 2: F. Michael Parkowski | Environmental Law
The federal Clean Air Act of 1970 and federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 had just forced a major shift in the government’s role in air and water pollution control.
The young attorney, who had a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Villanova University, had worked as the deputy director of enforcement for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III, while attending Temple University Beasley School of Law at night.
His credentials caught the attention of officials in Delaware, who were drafting new environmental regulations. “Having a technical background in a legal world provides distinct advantages in being able to speak the language and communicate effectively with scientist and engineers who deal with environmental issues,” he says.
So in 1973 Parkowski began serving in the Delaware Attorney General’s office as general counsel to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. The laws and regulations he drafted during his tenure include legislation to create the Delaware Solid Waste Authority and the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation, a public entity that purchases development rights to farms.
Today Parkowski is a director of Parkowski, Guerke & Swayze, a 15-attorney firm with offices in Dover, Wilmington and Georgetown. Parkowski focuses on environmental law and real estate and land-use law, two areas that marry well. “Very rarely can you go forward with a commercial real estate transaction without tripping over environmental requirements,” he says.
His ties to government remain strong. Since 1976 Parkowski has served as general counsel to the Delaware Solid Waste Authority. His office also has represented the Delaware Economic Development Office, the Delaware Department of Transportation, the Delaware Lottery Office, the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation, the Delaware Civic Center Corporation and the Delaware Manufactured Homes Relocation Authority.
For the firm’s corporate clients, Parkowski makes sure that regulations are interpreted and applied properly. Parkowski also handles cases involving agriculture and wetland preservation, and he’s represented landowners in development issues. Without savvy counsel, farmers and other landowners risk negotiating deals that benefit buyers and keep the land tied up too long, he explains.
Listed in The Best Lawyers in America for more than 20 years, Parkowski is the past president of the Delaware Bar Association. For nine years, he has served as the chair of the Governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission.
Page 3: Collins “C.J.” Seitz Jr. | Civil Litigation
Collins J. Seitz Jr. has the law in his genes. His father was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. As Chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery, Seitz Sr. presided over Belton v. Gebhar, which was later combined with several other cases into the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Three of the judge’s children, including C.J. Seitz, followed in their father’s footsteps.
Seitz, who graduated from Villanova University Law School, has been lucky to have several impressive mentors. As a young attorney, he worked under Arthur Connolly Sr. and Arthur Connolly Jr. at Connolly, Bove, Lodge & Hutz. “They taught me how to be a lawyer,” Seitz says.
Seitz is now managing partner of the 110-attorney firm. His practice—which focuses on intellectual property, corporate, commercial and trust litigation, and government law and litigation—is remarkably diverse. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve done a little bit of everything,” he says. “I have a broad-based experience.”
As a result, he’s become the go-to attorney when the stakes are high. Government clients include the State of Delaware, New Castle County and other Delaware municipalities. He represented the state in the U.S. Supreme Court original jurisdiction case New Jersey v. Delaware, which upheld Delaware’s territorial claims to the Delaware River.
In the business arena, Seitz was co-counsel for Rohm and Haas Co. in its successful quest to have Dow Chemical Co. complete its agreement after Dow sought to walk away from the $15.3 billion merger. Seitz and other firm attorneys also represented Pfizer Inc. as lead counsel to successfully defend Pfizer’s patent for Lipitor, one of the world’s best-selling drugs.
In addition to corporate cases, Seitz has litigated high-profile family trust disputes in the Chancery Court, and he’s currently representing the Medical Society of Delaware in matters pertaining to the Dr. Earl B. Bradley case.
Seitz’s skill prompted the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware to appoint him special master for pretrial proceedings in the DaimlerChrysler securities litigation, which sparked 20 pretrial decisions. Delaware District Court judges have also appointed Seitz to the panel of special masters to handle pretrial matters in intellectual property and complex business cases.
Despite his busy schedule, Seitz has represented clients from the Federal Civil Panel, through which indigent federal litigants receive volunteer counsel for meritorious cases. His pro bono work earned him the 2004 Caleb R. Layton Distinguished Service Award.
No matter the case, Seitz’s goal is to serve as a trusted adviser to clients. “When they have a particular question about Delaware corporate law or the Delaware court, they can come to me for a quick answer,” he says.
Page 4: Vivian A. Houghton | Personal Bankruptcy
For nearly 30 years, attorney Vivian A. Houghton’s Wilmington practice has concentrated on bankruptcy, consumer law and real estate. Consequently, she’s witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of the recession and the housing crisis. “There’s been an absolutely tragic increase” in the number of people filing for bankruptcy,” says the Delaware native, who graduated from Delaware Law School of Widener College.
The process is challenging. New bankruptcy rules limit those who can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Moreover, filing bankruptcy may not be the best decision, depending on the client’s circumstances.
Houghton directs people down the right path. “It’s a good way to help people and empower them,” she says.
Her practice involves pre- and post-bankruptcy counseling. “We consider the pre- and post-bankruptcy experience very important in guiding them so they don’t come back again,” she explains.
Houghton and her clients first assess the situation and determine future goals. The session is often emotional. “They shed tears because they feel ashamed,” Houghton says. But the client is not necessarily to blame. Incomes have stayed steady or disappeared, yet expenses keep rising. Businesses close. Jobs are lost. “We focus on where do we go from here?” she says. “How do I manage this so it doesn’t happen to me again?”
Clients receive information to help them handle collection calls in the workplace. They learn what to do if the sheriff knocks at their door and where to go for mortgage counseling.
In the post-bankruptcy counseling, clients learn how to build their credit, find reputable establishments for such necessary items as cars and appliances, and avoid lenders with high interest rates.
Houghton is as active outside of the office as she is inside it. She is the Delaware state chair of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “We take a hard look at any legislation that affects our clients,” she says.
She’s given presentations on such subjects as “Bankruptcy Facts and Fiction: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself.” She also attends community and neighborhood meetings to discuss mortgage foreclosures and bankruptcy.
Realizing that every minute at work counts for her clients, she holds office hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and she often works weekends so people needn’t take time off. She accompanies clients to every court appearance, even going so far as to meet them at the elevator to show her support.
“The system is scary to them, and it would be devastating for them to miss a hearing that is so important to their financial future and their family’s future,” she says.
The reward for her labor: seeing clients get back on their feet. “My clients are able to get a new economic start,” she says. “Once we wipe out their unsecured debt, they become even more productive and more enthusiastic about their new financial life. They gain self-respect.”
Page 5: Charles J. Durante Tax | Trusts and Estates
As a first-year law student, Charles “Chuck” J. Durante was already adept at gathering the pertinent facts. After graduating from Haverford College with honors, the history major became a reporter for the Delaware State News. During his second week at Villanova University School of Law, he got a job with the Philadelphia Inquirer—an offer too good to turn down.
For three years, Durante pursued both a career in law and a career in newspapers in the Inquirer’s sports department. Something had to give. “It was clear, at a certain stage, that it was critical to develop a focus where excellence is possible,” he says.
After law school, Durante earned a master’s degree in tax law from Villanova. He is now a partner at Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz, where he has headed the tax, estates and trusts department since 1988. The challenge of his practice area intrigued him. “It was attractive to me because it intimidates so many people,” he says.
His work is about more than numbers. “There is an enormous human element when you’re dealing with estates,” he says. “You see the best and the worst in people. A will requires care on both the part of the client and the lawyer.”
When it comes to estate planning and business planning, he emphasizes strategies for the intergenerational passage of personal property and business interests.
He advises lay and professional fiduciaries on the administration of trusts and estates, and he counsels private foundations and other nonprofit organizations. He also advises clients in the related areas of Delaware statutory trusts, Delaware holding companies and opinions concerning Delaware business law.
Helping a family move its 50-year-old trust to Delaware, assisting a Puerto Rican real estate developer obtaining an opinion on Delaware law and advising a governmental body is par for the course for Durante. He successfully defended Delaware election law against a constitutional challenge before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Biener v. Calio and the city of Wilmington’s procurement process in Northern Delaware Clean Water Corp. v. City of Wilmington.
His interest in government matters is not surprising considering Durante is Wilmington’s former assistant city solicitor and a former deputy attorney general.
Durante continues to write on topics related to law, Delaware history and public affairs. And he still covers high school cross country. “I regard it as a community service, telling stories of ambitious and talented teenagers,” he says.
Like being a journalist, being a lawyer requires good listening skills. “You absorb and probe for the necessary facts,” he says. He is then candid with the client about the possible outcome, the risks and the benefits of each strategy.
Integrity and candor are the successful lawyer’s most critical characteristics, he says. “If you adhere to standards, a lawyer can enjoy a rewarding, continuing client relationship that can expand into a personal friendship.”
Page 6: Stuart M. Grant | Corporate Litigation and Securities
When Stuart M. Grant is in the courtroom, judges can count on being entertained. Grant may reference family stories, contemporary music or current events. Lightening the legalese to engage listeners is not unusual in TV-esque jury trials. Grant, however, makes his arguments in the Delaware Court of Chancery, where it’s expected that the discourse will run on the dry side.
Grant sympathizes with the Chancery Court judges. “When I argue, I cite situations that people can relate to,” says Grant, managing director of Grant & Eisenhofer in Wilmington. “Judges are people too.”
Grant focuses on securities, regulatory and corporate governance litigation, and Delaware corporate law. “I love the intersection of business and law,” he says. “And I was always fascinated by the securities markets.”
His passion has paid off. Grant—who is consistently ranked as a leading securities and corporate governance litigator in Chambers USA—serves as litigation counsel to many of the largest public and private institutional investors in the world.
Given his interests, it’s not surprising that the New York University School of Law graduate would wind up in Delaware, which has been called America’s Corporate Capital.
He started his career on the defense side of the fence. Gradually, his practice was about half defense and half plaintiff work. When in 1997 Grant started Grant & Eisenhofer with Jay Eisenhofer, he shifted to handling only plaintiff work. The practice took off. “The willingness of institutional investors to take lead roles in corporate securities litigation has increased dramatically,” he says. “And, as a result, so has our practice.”
Grant was the first attorney in the nation to argue the provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, which allowed an institutional investor to be appointed as lead plaintiff in a securities class action.
He has achieved four of the five largest monetary payments in the history of the Delaware Chancery Court. The Digex Stockholders litigation resulted in a $420 million payment, the largest in the court’s history. About half the amount went to shareholders. The balance went to the company in which shareholders remained shareholders. The case led to the establishment of lead plaintiff provisions in Delaware.
Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana v. Greenberg, et al., and the American International Group, the largest settlement of derivative shareholder litigation in Chancery Court history, resulted in a Greenberg entities’ payment of $115 million to AIG.
Since 1994, Grant has been an adjunct professor at Widener Law School, and he is a member of the advisory board of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. Despite his interests and practice area, Grant is no stuffed shirt. You’ll rarely see him with a jacket and tie unless he’s headed to court.
His boutique firm is selective about its cases. “We treat every client as though he or she is our only client,” he says.