Trujillo weighs move from law office to City Hall

Ken Trujillo , at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis L.L.P., says "it is no secret" he's interested in a run for mayor. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Ken Trujillo , at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis L.L.P., says "it is no secret" he's interested in a run for mayor. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 24, 2014

Ken Trujillo has a lot of balls in the air, and he doesn't give the impression that he is at risk of dropping any.

Not so far, anyway.

He merged his small, litigation-focused firm, Trujillo, Rodriguez & Richards, with the much larger Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis L.L.P. last year. His practice is white-collar defense, class actions, and corporate compliance, advising big companies on how to stay on the right side of business laws and regulations, and to defend them if the government claims they have strayed.

There is a lot of work outside of the office, too. He has long played a leading role in top Latino organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza, and he teaches a course at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he earned his degree, on how activists can use the legal system to bring about social change.

And, there's one other thing.

Trujillo, though he hasn't declared and won't commit one way or another, is beginning to act very much as if he will be a candidate in the mayoral election next year. He has formed a political action committee and is raising money for a possible race. In a sign of how serious Trujillo is, he has hired the white-hot political consultant Bill Hyers, who orchestrated New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's impressive campaign last year, to consult on a possible race.

Hyers also helped put Mayor Nutter's first campaign for mayor in 2007, a long shot initially, over the top.

"It is no secret that it is something that I am interested in and I am also taking all the steps to prepare for it," said Trujillo, a Democrat, while adding that he had not made a final decision.

In the legal world, Trujillo is best known as a highly regarded white-collar defense expert who built on his experience as city solicitor in 2000 and 2001 and an earlier stint as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia.

As a prosecutor, Trujillo was best known for making criminal cases against a North Philadelphia drug gang and Electric Factory concerts for skimming proceeds from various concerts. As city solicitor, he sued gun manufacturers, alleging their gun sales had created a public nuisance, which resulted in a settlement with Smith & Wesson. He served then in the scandal-plagued administration of John F. Street but came out unscathed.

At one point during the investigation targeting various Street allies, Trujillo was portrayed as pushing back against a scheme to award a contract to a politically connected vendor.

"I think like other top litigators, he has the ability to zero in on what is going to be most important in a mass of data," said Pedro Ramos, an attorney at Schnader and a longtime friend of Trujillo. Ramos also served for a time as city solicitor.

Trujillo, 54, who lives with his wife and 14-year-old daughter in Chestnut Hill, took an atypical path to a life in Philadelphia law and public policy. The son of an Assemblies of God minister, he grew up in the southwest Colorado tourist town of Durango, which he describes as a Rocky Mountain idyll. His family was among the earliest Latino settlers in the region, arriving in what is northern New Mexico in the 17th century. He spent a good portion of his youth becoming a top ski competitor - giant slalom was one of his events - and for a time thought he might pursue the sport on the college level.

He instead went to Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., the Assemblies of God school founded by the father of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Trujillo spent several years at Schnader after graduation from Penn, his first go-round at the firm, and soon became involved in litigation over the financial collapse of the Washington Public Power Supply System, one of the largest municipal bond defaults in U.S. history. In popular argot, the agency's commercial paper came to be known as "whoops" bonds. Schnader's role was to defend a Philadelphia-based engineering firm that became embroiled in the litigation.

Trujillo has long been politically active, campaigning for President Obama in 2008, and he served on Obama's transition team after the election, assigned to review staffing and operations at the Securities and Exchange Commission. For a time, he was mentioned prominently as a possible choice for U.S trade representative, and also as U.S. attorney here.

Trujillo says it shouldn't be surprising that he might seek some further role in public life.

"I really do think Philadelphia is at an inflection point," he said. "I think my experience prepares me well to offer a compelling vision for our future and lead a serious conversation about our city's challenges on public schools, job creation, and crime."

215-854-5957 @cmondics


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