Pepper Hamilton has bulked up its growing white-collar litigation practice with the addition of two attorneys from Ballard Spahr.

Gina Maisto Smith, who spent a good chunk of her time at Ballard Spahr representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in its review of allegations of sexual abuse by priests, and Leslie Marie Gomez have joined Pepper Hamilton’s Philadelphia office.

The two former longtime prosecutors with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will be partners in Pepper Hamilton’s white-collar litigation and investigations practice group. While at Ballard Spahr, Smith and Gomez represented universities, private schools, religious organizations and nonprofit institutions in their response to sexual misconduct allegations. The pair also conducted internal investigations and developed compliance programs for those clients.

Pepper Hamilton sees that experience as a nice dovetail to the firm’s work in higher education and institutional risk management, such as the firm’s prior representation of Penn State University in its response to allegations of sexual abuse made against former assistant football coach and convicted serial child molester Jerry Sandusky.

"The addition of these dynamic individuals helps solidify the firm as a leader in white-collar litigation and related matters," Pepper Hamilton Chief Executive Officer Scott Green said in a statement.

Pepper Hamilton made significant moves to bolster its white-collar practice with the acquisition last year of former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s law and consulting firms. The practice has been expanding ever since and will be one of the growth targets for Freeh as he takes over as chairman of Pepper Hamilton at the end of this month.

Thomas M. Gallagher, head of Pepper Hamilton’s white-collar litigation and investigations practice, said Smith and Gomez have established themselves as "real big players" in the areas of institutional risk counseling and higher education. He said they will be bringing clients to the firm and working with existing Pepper Hamilton clients in that space. Gallagher said the firm has a national practice in that area.

Institutional risk counseling, particularly in the area of sexual harassment-related issues, is both a growing practice and one that is garnering more attention, Gallagher said. He said Smith and Gomez are attracting new business in that area every day.
Ballard Spahr leadership said any firm that brought Smith on board would have to be prepared to offer her "constant" support.

Former Chairman Arthur Makadon, who hired Smith from the District Attorney’s Office in 2006, said Smith "caught lightning in a bottle" when she was hired by the archdiocese. But Makadon said Smith required a big support network of senior attorneys who helped on the matter but were unable to bill time. Current Ballard Spahr Chairman Mark Stewart echoed those sentiments.

"My predecessor took an enormous risk when he hired Gina out of the DA’s office and he championed her throughout her stay here," Stewart said in a statement. "And many of our partners, including some of the best and most well-regarded lawyers in this city, were there for her with constant and needed support; helped her think through complex legal issues and political snares; and devoted countless hours to help make her practice successful. So it is important that wherever Gina goes there be a similar support structure, and Pepper obviously can offer that."

In response, Gallagher said only that Pepper Hamilton has "great respect for the Ballard white-collar group and [has] always recognized Gina as a leader and very well respected by her clients."

Smith was not available for comment.

Smith spent nearly two decades in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office as a child abuse, sex crimes and homicide prosecutor. She investigated thousands of cases and prosecuted more than 100 jury trials. Smith has trained prosecutors, investigators and multidisciplinary teams in managing sex crimes investigations. She also has served as adjunct faculty for Temple University, Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Gomez spent 14 years in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, most recently as the chief of the Juvenile Unit. Gomez prosecuted child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault cases at the trial and appellate level and supervised the investigation and prosecution of every child abuse case in the city of Philadelphia for more than five years. She served as a training and educational resource for the District Attorney’s Office on issues related to child abuse and sexual assault, juvenile delinquency and dependency, forensic interviewing and trial dynamics, and provided education and community outreach to child abuse professionals.

Smith and Gomez advise institutional clients on issues related to all forms of criminal misconduct, including sexual harassment, sexual and gender violence, child pornography, child protection and mandatory reporter obligations. They conduct policy audits, develop policy, and design and implement internal operating procedures in compliance with Title IX, the Clery Act and the Department of Education’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.