Posted: May 28, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Between a solid law practice and coveted appointments from the governor, F. Michael Parkowski has so much going his way that it is hard to think he could add to it.

He just did.

Next week Parkowski is joining forces with David S. Swayze, another lawyer recognized for his political playmaking. The firm of Parkowski & Guerke will become Parkowski Guerke & Swayze with offices in Dover and Wilmington for 15 lawyers.

The alliance unites a pair of attorneys who know their way around the inner workings of government, representing clients before state and federal regulatory agencies, lobbying for them in the General Assembly and litigating for them in court.

"When you look at government legal work, they become a significant legal firm," said Robert L. Byrd, a top Dover lobbyist who knows influence when he sees it.

The new partnership comes at a time when Parkowski already has perhaps as high a public profile as any lawyer in Delaware with his close connections to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the first-term Democrat.

One of Minner's first acts after assuming office in 2001 was to name Parkowski the chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission, a panel that screens applicants for judgeships and holds considerable sway among the bench and bar.

As if that assignment were not enough, Minner recently tapped Parkowski for the chairmanship of the Delaware River & Bay Authority, the troubled agency she has been vitally interested in remaking in her own image.

Parkowski was the co-chairman of the finance committee that collected the contributions for Minner's first gubernatorial campaign in 2000, and he expected to be in the thick of her fund raising again in 2004.

Somewhere in there he also runs a law firm that he started in Dover in 1975, building his own practice mostly in environmental law and land use matters with clients that include the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, the state Transportation Department and the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation.

No wonder Parkowski is welcoming Swayze. "You might say I'm doing this so there's somebody around to practice law," he quipped.

Swayze brings plenty of connections of his own. Although he is a Democrat, his experience with state government dates from his days as legal counsel and chief of staff in the first term of Republican Gov. Pierre S. du Pont, whose two-term administration lasted from 1977 to 1985.

Swayze's insider status was on display at his wedding earlier this month. Legislators were there, including Thurman G. Adams Jr., the Senate's Democratic president pro tem, and so was the judicial trifecta of Supreme Court Justice Myron T. Steele, Chancellor William B. Chandler III and Superior Court President Judge Henry duPont Ridgely.

As a lawyer in private practice, Swayze helped to usher in the move of out-of-state law firms to Delaware, going with the Wilmington offices of Duane Morris in 1986 and Reed Smith in 2000. After years of trying to recruit Parkowski and his law firm as a downstate practice group, he said he saw the light.

"Michael and other members of the law firm valued their independence far too much," Swayze said. "I concluded that's the way I want to spend my last 10 years of practice."

Swayze is not coming alone. He is bringing with him Reed Smith partners Christine P. Schlitz and Michael W. Teichman, who also have governmental practices. Schlitz, once a law clerk for Steele, works in regulatory law and lobbying. Teichman, a former deputy attorney general assigned to the state Insurance Department, represents insurance companies and banks in his regulatory practice.

Even before these new reinforcements arrived, Parkowski's firm was on the move. He added lawyers after partner John W. Noble left in 2000 with a judicial appointment for the Court of Chancery -- a feather in the cap of the firm. He also opened a Wilmington office in December, a presence that clearly will be heightened now.

 "This isn't a Dover firm with a Wilmington office. This is a statewide practice. To the extent we were before, this establishes it beyond question," Parkowski said.

The move from downstate to upstate tends to run against the trend. In general it is the Wilmington firms setting up offices in lower Delaware, like Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor in Georgetown or Prickett Jones & Elliott in Dover.

"We've watched this invasion from the north," Parkowski said. "Essentially we're counterattacking."