Christie's bridge-probe lawyer has high-power reputation

Randy Mastro headed the high-profile legal team that concluded that Gov. Christie was not involved in a plot to gridlock George Washington Bridge approaches. The Penn Law School grad's firm is a popular choice for blue-chip clients.
Randy Mastro headed the high-profile legal team that concluded that Gov. Christie was not involved in a plot to gridlock George Washington Bridge approaches. The Penn Law School grad's firm is a popular choice for blue-chip clients. (AP)
Posted: March 30, 2014

Call it a vindication or a whitewash, but there's no denying this:

They called in a team of high-profile lawyers with Randy Mastro at the head.

Mastro, lead lawyer in the team of five former federal prosecutors hired by the Christie administration to investigate the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, is a topflight litigator with New Jersey roots, Philadelphia ties, and a Manhattan address.

A former chief of staff and deputy mayor for Rudy Giuliani who waged war on organized crime at New York's Fulton Street Fish Market and the San Gennaro Festival, Mastro, 57, is a partner in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a top firm retained for the investigation and one to which, according to American Lawyer, "blue-chip clients in desperate straits" have turned time and again "to get them out of trouble at every stage."

This week, questions about possible conflict of interest continued to dog Gov. Christie.

"No matter who I chose to do this, questions would be raised by some quarters as to those people's objectivity," Christie said at a news conference Friday. "My answer to that is, look at the report. We gave them unfettered, complete access to everyone in this government and allowed them to interview people multiple times if they so desired, on multiple occasions."

Mastro said Friday that besides the bridge investigation, the only tie he knew of between his firm and Christie was a longtime friendship between the governor and a partner in the firm. Another partner once represented the state in an appellate case.

Mastro, who said he is a Democrat, said he first met Christie when his firm was retained for the bridge investigation.

At that initial meeting, he said, Christie "looked me in the eye" and told him to find out what happened, with the goal "to make sure something like this never happens again."

And while he said he would have liked to be able "to look David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly in the eyes," Mastro said that not having that opportunity did not impede his investigation, and that he believed the investigation fulfilled its charge.

"We haven't answered all the questions, but we answered the important ones," he said, reiterating that the probe found "not a shred of evidence" that Christie had foreknowledge of the lane closures.

Andrea Neuman, a partner in Mastro's firm, expressed confidence Friday in Mastro's integrity as an investigator.

"In my experience, it would be an objective, truth-seeking investigation," she said.

On Friday, Kelly's lawyer, Michael Critchley, released a statement that Mastro "did not have access to all the information. Of course, without reviewing all pertinent evidence, any conclusions that are to be drawn are by definition incomplete."

State Democrats strongly disagree that the probe uncovered all the facts.

"He did what the governor paid him to do," said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen). She said she would like Mastro to come before her legislative committee investigating the lane closures.

If so, the panel will be dealing with a "merciless litigator," according to the New Yorker, "even by the pugilistic standards of the New York bar."

The National Law Journal in 2013 named Mastro among the "100 Most Influential Lawyers in America," according to his firm's website. His big-fish clients include Chevron, Dow Jones, Home Depot, and Amazon.com. He also has represented community groups. On several occasions, he went up against New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including playing a major role in the defeat of the controversial West Side Stadium project.

After his years with the Giuliani administration, he said, he became sought-after for litigation involving government.

"Who better to know when the city screws up than a former deputy mayor?" he quipped.

Mastro started out in Bernardsville, Somerset County. He graduated from Yale University and went on to the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He lived in Philadelphia for four years while in law school and when he was law clerk to Justice Alan B. Handler of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

He said he was fond of the city, returning every Wednesday during the spring semester the last few years to teach at Penn's law school.

During the 1980s, he served with the U.S. Attorney's Office, specializing in organized crime.

While with Giuliani, a Christie supporter, it has been reported that he would wield a baseball bat in meetings with reporters to emphasize a point, but he now says, laughing, "it was never any more than me getting my energy out." He had a prominent role in fighting organized crime during those years, but with a price.

"I got death threats during that period," he said. "I had to have police projection."

After the Giuliani years, Mastro went back to practicing law.

He now lives in Manhattan with his wife, Jonine Bernstein, a epidemiologist with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and their 18-year-old daughter.

But he has not seen the last of the bridge case. He said he would cooperate with the other ongoing investigations in the case by the state legislature and the U.S. Attorney's Office.


856-779-3893 rgiordano@phillynews.com @ritagiordano

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