Posted: Feb. 28, 2003
BILL LEE GETS WORK
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
William Swain Lee has decided to get a job in
addition to being a Republican candidate for governor.
A retired Superior Court judge, Lee will join
the Wilmington law firm of Bifferato Bifferato & Gentilotti next
week, working alongside Vincent A. Bifferato Sr., another ex-judge
and old friend, in the growing and lucrative field of mediation
where disputes are resolved before going to court.
"I'll be up in the old men's wing," quipped
Lee, who is 67. "This is something that is such a perfect and easy
Lee's new situation is one of those things
that seem to occur only in Delaware, where there often are no
degrees of separation and people who ought not to be together are --
and amicably so. While there is nothing unusual about a pair of old
colleagues like Lee and Bifferato getting back together, this is
Delaware, and it is much more complicated than that.
Lee and Bifferato both were respected Superior
Court resident judges, the administrators of their courthouses in
Sussex County and New Castle County, respectively. Lee retired in
1999 and Bifferato in 2000.
Lee is a Republican. Bifferato is a Democrat.
Lee left the bench to plunge back into
politics. He lost the Republican nomination for governor in 2000 by
46 votes but kept plugging and turned himself into the party's
frontrunner to take on Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a first-term Democrat,
Bifferato headed for the family law firm,
where his sons Connor and Vincent Jr. are, and established himself
immediately as a premier mediator. With Lee's arrival, the firm will
have 10 lawyers, Connor Bifferato said.
As for the political arrangements at the firm,
they are convoluted. Connor Bifferato is a member of Minner's
campaign finance committee. Another lawyer who recently joined the
firm is Carl Schnee, a Democrat who came close to unseating
Republican Attorney General M. Jane Brady in the 2002 election. Lee
supported Brady in that race, but there remains a possibility that
Brady could challenge Lee for the gubernatorial nomination.
Got all of that? "You have very strong
Democratic supporters, and you have the Republican candidate for
governor, and we're all friends," Connor Bifferato said.
What has yet to be resolved is the matter of
campaign donations -- with the possibility of lawyers who have
contributed to Lee or Minner or to Schnee or Brady turning to the
firm for mediation.
"I don't see it as a factor," Lee said.
"Mediators are not assigned. They're selected by the parties [in a
legal dispute], and it has to be someone that both sides agree on."
Connor Bifferato agreed, saying the situation
can be resolved by disclosure and informed decision-making.
Furthermore, any lawyer who is concerned could go elsewhere, say, to
Vincent A. Poppiti, who is resigning next month as the Family Court
chief judge for a mediation practice at Blank Rome in Wilmington.
Lee will have a flexible schedule, allowing
him to make his campaign his top priority. He expects to assume the
bulk of the firm's downstate caseload in mediation. He also plans to
keep his Rehoboth Beach residence and commute upstate frequently,
just as he has been doing for his candidacy. He also has plenty of
family upstate with guest rooms for him.
Lee was wooed to the job by Bifferato Sr.
"It's fun for Biff, and he's told me that over and over again," Lee
The money doesn't hurt, either. Mediation
services at the firm go for $300 an hour, Lee said. The governor
earns $114,000 a year. "My first comment was, I can't afford to be
governor," Lee quipped.
That would be fine with the firm. "I hope
that's the case. I hope he decides to make the Bifferato boys rich,"
Connor Bifferato said.
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