Delaware - Law Firms Stradley Ronon Takes A Major Step Forward In Delaware

Monday, November 1, 2004 - 01:00

Editor: Ms. DeMatteis, please tell us something about your background.

DeMatteis: I was born and raised in Delaware. Although I started my career as a journalist, I seem to have had a political dimension to my professional life from the very beginning. All through college I worked in the Delaware General Assembly, starting as a bill clerk and winding up by implementing the Delaware State Senate's computerized calendar system. When I graduated from college, I worked at a television station in Washington, D.C., for a year and then moved on to a CBS affiliate in Dover, Del., where I was the reporter for the General Assembly. That was a wonderful experience, but I thought that TV news coverage could be somewhat shallow. At that point I began to think about going to law school.Shortly thereafter, while working on Sen. Biden's presidential campaign, I met a woman attending law school at night. That convinced me that it was possible to hold down a full-time job and go to law school at the same time. As an aside, I should mention that one of the principal benefits of my law school years was having Sen. Biden as a professor. That was the beginning of a relationship that has been very important to my career over many years. When I graduated from law school, Gov. Mike Castle had a position available on his staff, and I became his assistant legal counsel. That, too, was a valuable experience. The opportunity that I now have at Stradley Ronon really involves bringing many years of experience and a multitude of contacts, both in Delaware and on Capitol Hill, to the firm.

Editor: Please tell us about the factors that went into your decision to join Stradley Ronon.

DeMatteis: A very good friend, Richard Mroz, is co-chair of the firm's Government and Public Affairs Practice Group. We were in college together, and he was very supportive of my decision to become a lawyer. Over the years, he has developed a vision of a very strong tri-state - New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware - practice focused on governmental affairs, and he has been persistent in asking me to consider being part of it. Richard is certainly one of the principal reasons I have come to Stradley Ronon, and I should mention that the people at the firm constitute one of its most attractive features. They are friendly and supportive, but very professional and committed to a firm-wide vision at the same time.

Editor: How do you see your practice at Stradley Ronon evolving?

DeMatteis: My goal is to build a solid team of lawyers - drawn from a variety of practice backgrounds and disciplines and from other firms and government instrumentalities - to serve the firm's clients in Delaware. The team will encompass bankruptcy work, commercial litigation, corporate governance, transactional work and, of course, governmental affairs. The challenge consists in getting the right people to join. I have excellent contacts, as I say, and Stradley Ronon projects a wonderful image for such a practice, so I am certain that we will attract the lawyers we need to put this practice on a sound footing.

Editor: What kind of client base are you attempting to build?

DeMatteis: Given the fact that we are talking about Delaware, the client base will have a strong corporate element. We also anticipate a bankruptcy focus, and government affairs is certainly going to be one of the featured aspects of the practice. At the federal court level, Delaware is known for the patent expertise of its judges; I expect a patent practice to be a strong part of Stradley Ronon's Delaware presence, especially with the recent addition of two leaders in the intellectual property field to the Stradley Ronon partnership, Kevin Casey and Kevin Goldstein.

Editor: Much of your career since law school has been spent in the political arena. Would you tell us something about the positions you have held over this time?

DeMatteis: I mentioned my position with Gov. Mike Castle as his assistant legal counsel. It was my job to review every bill and to make a recommendation as to whether he should sign or veto it. I also reviewed all the pardons requiring his signature. I helped to form his legislative agenda - which included the drafting of proposed legislation - and served on a bipartisan team to further the interests of Delaware. One of the most exciting events I was involved with took place during Gov. Castle's final year in office - the implementation of medical insurance coverage for all low-income children in Delaware. He has frequently said that he supports term limits as a consequence of having been forced to push that initiative through during his final year in office.

During Mike Castle's first year in Congress, I worked for him in Washington, D.C. In 1994, I accepted an opportunity to serve as counsel on Sen. Biden's Judicial Committee staff. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Over the past 10 years my position and responsibilities have involved legal, political, media and public relations work, sometimes all at once.

Editor: Please tell us about your Delaware Bar Association activities.

DeMatteis: The Delaware Bar Association is a wonderful group of people, and I have been active for many years in a variety of committees - most recently the Executive Committee - and individual sections. My service on the Executive Committee has helped to connect the State Bar Association with Delaware's Congressional Delegation. This has been extremely important in connection with the appointment of new bankruptcy court judges and amendments to the bankruptcy statutes, a matter of some considerable concern in a jurisdiction like Delaware. During the time I was chair of the Women and the Law Section of the Association, we discovered that the man who had led the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch in Iraq was an attorney and, through Sen. Biden's office, were able to make contact with him. The Delaware Bar Association brought him to Wilmington for an award. Additionally, the General Counsel for Delaware Blue Cross-Blue Shield was able to arrange for medical coverage for him and his family. Sen. Biden thereafter arranged for his family to leave Iraq. My involvement with the Delaware Bar Association has been, needless to say, very rewarding.

Editor: You have also had an extremely active parallel career in teaching and writing. How does this connect to your professional life?

DeMatteis: I have had some terrific experiences over the course of my career, and teaching and writing are ways in which to share those experiences, particularly with young people. In addition, standing in front of a group of bright and interested students is a challenge, one that forces me to stay on top of the law and Supreme Court decisions. I know I am a better lawyer for having done this.

In connection with my teaching and writing career, the University of Delaware - which established its Corporate Governance School some years ago - is going to host a conference this year for the International Corporate Governance Network. This is the kind of activity that puts Delaware on the map and keeps us there.

Editor: In the summer of 2002 Gov. Ruth Ann Minner named you as chair of the Delaware Commission for Women.

DeMatteis: The Commission for Women was set up under President Kennedy, who believed that several women's issues were being neglected. Each state has its own commission, and there is an umbrella group, the National Commission for Women. The organization's focus is on issues impacting women, including such things as the Family Medical Leave Act, violence against women, equal compensation issues, and so on. Last year I made a bid to host the National Commission's annual conference, and in July 2003, all of the state commissions came to Delaware. The guest speaker was Coleen Rawley, one of Time Magazine's "Women of the Year,"and the event provided an important opportunity to bring women together to discuss the issues.

Editor: What are the things on the agenda that you hope to accomplish in the future with the Commission?

DeMatteis: Health care, and the impact of health care issues on families, is high on the agenda. In addition, elder care issues, domestic abuse and a variety of issues that revolve around childcare are all matters upon which the Commission remains focused. The next project I am working on is to bring Cherie Booth Blair to Delaware for a program. She is a Queen's Counsel and a highly respected lawyer in England, in addition to being the wife of the Prime Minister.

Editor: Your knowledge of Delaware is extensive. Would you tell us about what makes the Delaware court system so attractive to corporations and the lawyers who represent corporations?

DeMatteis: Our court system is superb, and that is a consequence of the men and women on the bench. Particularly in the area of corporate law, but in a great number of other practice areas as well, the Delaware judiciary - through diligence, a painstaking attention to detail, and extremely hard work - has established a standard for excellence that is the envy of other jurisdictions. These are people who might be making a great deal of money in private practice. They have chosen the bench for a variety of reasons, and I think that most of them are attracted by the level of intellectual discussion they experience as members of the Delaware judiciary, in addition to the ability to make a difference and improve the lives of people through their decisions.

The Delaware Court of Chancery goes back to 1792, and today's court is the result of a tradition of excellence of more than two centuries. There is a respect for tradition, but it is not one that stifles creativity and innovation. I think that because the court's grounding in the law is so profound, it is not reluctant to change course when that is indicated. What we are seeing in the Disney case today is, I believe, a reflection of the court's willingness to embrace change, and that, too, is part of the tradition.

Editor: What about the future? Where do you think Stradley Ronon is going to be in Delaware in, say, five years?

DeMatteis: In five years I have every expectation that Stradley Ronon will have a strong and thriving Delaware practice across a wide range of disciplines with, I trust, a governmental affairs unit at the center.Stradley Ronon is going to be at the table, and I will be there as well.

Please email the interviewee at cdematteis@stradley.com with questions about this interview.