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Conrad O'Brien's expansion into Harrisburg brings heavy hitters

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Attorneys Christopher D. Carusone, left, and Stephen C. MacNett are based at Philadelphia law firm Conrad O’Brien’s new Harrisburg office in the Payne Shoemaker Building across the street from the state Capitol complex.
Attorneys Christopher D. Carusone, left, and Stephen C. MacNett are based at Philadelphia law firm Conrad O’Brien’s new Harrisburg office in the Payne Shoemaker Building across the street from the state Capitol complex. - (Photo / )

The expansion of Philadelphia firm Conrad O'Brien into its new Harrisburg office has just two full-time lawyers.

While that sounds small, those two lawyers are as powerfully connected to the capital as any in town.

Stephen C. MacNett, who retired as chief counsel for the Republican Senate after about 35 years, and Christopher D. Carusone, the former secretary of legislative affairs for Gov. Tom Corbett, are representing the firm as it expands into the region to take on more government and consulting work.

"It's gone beyond our expectations," said Matthew H. Haverstick, a shareholder and practicing attorney in the firm's Philadelphia office and a native of Washington, Lancaster County. "It's not every day guys like that are available and interested in being your partners. Those guys could have gone anywhere."

For both men, it's the new start they were looking for.

MacNett retired from the Senate in early 2011 and quickly found that retirement didn't suit him.

"I did nothing. And I mean, nothing," he said about the first few months of retirement. "And it was the most unsatisfying period of my life."

He got to know Jim Rohn, chairman of Conrad O'Brien, as the firm was involved in defending some of the Pennsylvania legislators involved in the "Bonusgate" investigation in the late 2000s. The two met during and after the investigation at times over the years — "to break bread, have coffee," as MacNett put it — but there was never a job offer floated.

When he got bored with retirement, the two met and agreed to have MacNett come on part time in spring 2011. While work was slow in the beginning as the firm started in Harrisburg, it was starting to pick up and soon MacNett was working more than part-time hours.

That led to his full-time appointment in spring 2012. When the firm moved to its new digs on the fifth floor of the Payne Shoemaker Building on Third Street, MacNett had a direct view of the Capitol building, where he had started as a page in 1966 and worked for the next 45 years.

It might have been strange to have the outside view of the building at first, but MacNett doesn't miss the schedule.

"I couldn't stand to leave every night until I had wrung the last bit of juice out of myself," he said. "But that meant I spent too many hours there, tons of nights and too many weekends. There's now more of a freedom that attaches to (not being there)."

Carusone has been in on some of the biggest political legislation of the last year — whether it became law or not. As the secretary of legislative affairs for Corbett, he helped craft the legislation of the governor's infamous agenda for the 2014 budget, including the transportation bill that passed in November, the liquor privatization bill and the pension reform bill.

While only the transportation bill made it through to law, Carusone said he's still proud of what he accomplished in his one year in Corbett's cabinet.

"They were some of the state's biggest public policy issues of our time," he said. "Even if they didn't get passed, they got the discussions started."

Carusone had options when he left the governor's office in July. He admitted he talked to other firms — with Haverstick's blessing — when he left the governor's office but said he found what he was looking for at Conrad O'Brien.

Right now, the firm is focusing on keeping its clients from needing them, by working on preventative compliance issues before investigators can come calling. Some of the firm's specialties include the Marcellus Shale industry and government affairs.

After the passage of Corbett's transportation bill Nov. 25, Carusone said, there will be dozens of construction companies seeking those government contracts that might be ill-prepared to bid for them.

"It's the creative problem-solving, that's what I love about what I'm doing now," he said. "It's not just litigation, but it's the discussions on how to make the situation for a client better. That's what we do here."

Familiar faces

Stephen C. MacNett

Title: Attorney, Conrad O'Brien

Age: 68

Family: Daughters, Colleen, 32, and Pam, 28

College: Dickinson College, 1968; Dickinson School of Law, 1971

Career: Named chief counsel for the Senate Republican Caucus in 1977, retired from the same position in 2011. Prior to that, he worked on the legal staff for various Republican Senate leaders for about 10 years.

Christopher D. Carusone

Title: Partner, Conrad O'Brien

Age: 46

Family: Married for 20 years to wife Kathleen; son, Michael, 13

College: Providence College, 1989; Widener University School of Law Harrisburg, 1993

Career: Secretary of legislative affairs, Pennsylvania Governor's Office (2012-13); executive deputy general counsel, Governor's Office of General Counsel (2011-12); chief deputy attorney general, Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General (2004-11); assistant general counsel, Pennsylvania State Police (1999-2004); assistant general counsel, Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General (1997-99); assistant district attorney, Berks County (1994-96)

Carusone sets record straight

Christopher D. Carusone’s exit after 20 years in state government, with his one-year stint on Gov. Tom Corbett’s Cabinet as the final stop, came with a twinge of controversy when he left in July.

He said media accounts lumped him into a group of Corbett’s Cabinet members who left or were nudged out the door as a type of “purge” after the governor failed to get his major initiatives through the state budget process.

That wasn’t the case with Carusone, however. When he took the position, he said, he told Corbett it would be for one year only, to help the governor write much of the legislation he was hoping to enact. That put Carusone on the front lines of Corbett’s liquor privatization, pension reform and transportation bills.

A few days after the budget was passed, hours before the July 1 deadline, Carusone met with Corbett for breakfast at the governor’s mansion. Carusone stuck by his earlier assertion he was leaving his post and told Corbett he’d be joining Conrad O’Brien’s new Harrisburg office.

The two talked transition for the next person, and Carusone left the meeting “feeling good about it.”

But on the same day Corbett announced Carusone’s departure, July 17, the governor announced a new chief of staff to replace the outgoing Stephen Aichele. In the coming weeks, other Cabinet members would depart, and Carusone’s name was included in the group that didn’t leave on their own terms.

Not true, he said.

“I still have a relationship with the governor that’s long-lasting and strong,” he said. “This isn’t spin, this is the truth.”

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