Arthur Makadon, an insider's insider, dies

At the traditional 2003 Election Day gathering of Democrats at the Famous 4th Street Deli, Arthur Makadon (second from right) noshed with leaders including Gov. Ed Rendell (right). To Makadon's right were Camden County Democratic leader George E. Norcross III and David L. Cohen, then Rendell's chief of staff.
At the traditional 2003 Election Day gathering of Democrats at the Famous 4th Street Deli, Arthur Makadon (second from right) noshed with leaders including Gov. Ed Rendell (right). To Makadon's right were Camden County Democratic leader George E. Norcross III and David L. Cohen, then Rendell's chief of staff. (File Photograph)
Posted: July 26, 2013

Arthur Makadon, 70, one of Philadelphia's most prominent litigators and for decades an influential figure in state and local politics, died early Wednesday, July 24, at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. His law firm, Ballard Spahr, said the cause of death was lung cancer.

Mr. Makadon cut a distinctive figure in the Philadelphia legal world and beyond. He served as chairman of Ballard Spahr from 2002 to 2011 and helped map its transition from a regional law firm into one with a national reach.

For years, he was one of former Gov. Ed Rendell's most trusted advisers, and had close relationships with many of the city's business and political leaders.

Mark S. Stewart, who succeeded Mr. Makadon as chairman of Ballard, informed partners of Mr. Makadon's death in an e-mail Wednesday morning. He said Mr. Makadon had checked into the hospital a week before he died.

"He was at the top of his craft, as good a litigator as you could find," Stewart said in an interview. "He saw things that most of us don't see, and that allowed him to be not only a successful litigator but a tremendous leader."

Mr. Makadon led Ballard Spahr during a time of tremendous growth for law firms in Philadelphia and the legal industry generally. During his time as chairman, the firm grew to more than 500 lawyers and opened offices in Atlanta, Phoenix, and Century City in Los Angeles, a hub of entertainment law.

Following the collapse of the financial markets in 2008 and the parallel decline in legal work available to big firms such as Ballard, Mr. Makadon oversaw the firm's retrenchment. Dozens of staff and lawyers were let go, salaries were cut for associates, and recruiting of first-year lawyers was suspended for a year. It was a belt-tightening process that occurred throughout the legal industry.

Mr. Makadon was known as both a mercurial and a charismatic figure.

"He feared no one and nothing," said Rendell. "If he believed his cause was right, he didn't care who he was going up against. He was crazy good and always fought like a tiger."

In 2007, Mr. Makadon stunned assembled mourners at the funeral of former City Solicitor Alan Davis when, during a eulogy, he denounced some of Davis' former colleagues at the firm of Wolf, Block, Shorr & Solis-Cohen for forcing Davis and other lawyers out of the firm.

Several of the targets of that critique were in attendance. Two years later, Wolf Block would announce that it was going out of business, a victim of the financial crisis.

Mr. Makadon had a flamboyant side and once was spotted striding through Ballard's new offices in Phoenix sporting a shiny new pair of cowboy boots, jeans, a white shirt, and a blazer, his mane of hair flowing behind.

He cultivated relationships with many of the city's leaders and was a go-to lawyer for savvy advice. He was Mayor John F. Street's lawyer during an FBI investigation into municipal corruption in Street's first term.

"It's part of Arthur's genius that he knew a lot of people and got to meet a lot of people as a result of his legal practice," said David L. Cohen, a friend and colleague of Mr. Makadon's at Ballard before leaving to join Comcast Corp., where he is executive vice president.

Mr. Makadon had taught one of Cohen's law classes at the University of Pennsylvania as an adjunct professor and recruited him to join Ballard. He later introduced him to Rendell. Cohen would go on to serve as Rendell's chief of staff when Rendell was mayor, and also would go on to chair Ballard Spahr for a time.

That close relationship thrust both men into the critical spotlight during the political corruption trial of former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo. A former Verizon president testified during the trial that in a meeting with Cohen and Mr. Makadon, he disclosed that Fumo had made improper demands in exchange for dropping his effort to break up the company.

The executive testified that their advice was to "work it out with the senator" when told that Fumo had demanded millions from his company.

Cohen has dismissed the executive's allegations as "absurd" and Mr. Makadon said the executive's only goal in coming to them was to try to get Fumo to back down.

As the recruiting partner and a leader at Ballard in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Makadon sought to change the tenor of the old-line, white-shoe firm by recruiting young lawyers with an entrepreneurial bent who wanted to shake things up.

"He wanted people who were willing to break some glass, smart and ambitious people who were not afraid," Cohen said, adding that by the time he became chairman of the firm, more than half its lawyers had been recruited by Mr. Makadon.

As Ballard chairman, Mr. Makadon believed, like many other law-firm leaders, that there was little opportunity for growth in the mid-Atlantic region. So he set his sights on expanding in the Southwest, the South, and California.

And his opening of the Phoenix office in 2006 was emblematic of his persistent, entrepreneurial bent. He began merger negotiations with the Phoenix firm of Fennemore Craig in 2004.

Phoenix was a high-growth region, and an internal Ballard analysis suggested an office there would be advantageous to Ballard since many of the firm's existing clients had operations in the Southwest. The idea was that they would turn to Ballard for even more legal representation if the firm had a presence in Phoenix.

But the merger, supported at Ballard, failed by a narrow vote at Fennemore Craig after a year of discussion. The day after the collapse of negotiations, Mr. Makadon sent out an e-mail to Ballard lawyers.

"We do not intend to miss a beat," he wrote.

Within a year, Mr. Makadon and Stewart had recruited several of Fennemore Craig's top lawyers and were well on their way to opening an office in Phoenix.

Mr. Makadon focused his practice on litigation, white-collar defense, and internal corporate investigations. As chairman, he was one of a dwindling number of law-firm leaders who continued to practice even while managing the firm.

He served as local counsel for Chevron in its defense against charges that the company was responsible for pollution caused by oil exploration and extraction in a portion of the Amazon rain forest in eastern Ecuador. The lawsuit was begun by the Philadelphia plaintiffs firm Kohn Swift & Graf, which dropped out of the case.

Mr. Makadon, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, was raised in Lower Merion. He was a former chief assistant district attorney in Philadelphia under Arlen Specter, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

"Arthur had high expectations of those he knew, including me," said his daughter, Claudia Makadon Sauerteig. "He modeled that with his intellect, astuteness, and keen sense of judgment. But he also had a sharp, even wild, sense of humor, and there wasn't a conversation between us that didn't involve a hearty laugh.

Mr. Makadon is also survived by a brother and his longtime companion, Naomi Wyatt.

Services will be private, with a memorial service to be held at a later date.


Contact Chris Mondics at 215-854-5957 or cmondics@phillynews.com.

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