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When former state Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman left the bench for private practice at Cozen O’Connor, Nelson A. Diaz wrote her a note of congratulations and remarked that maybe one day they would practice together. “Next thing I know, I got a call from Steve Cozen,” Diaz said. That was back in January, and Diaz said he decided less than two weeks ago to move to Cozen O’Connor. Some things are all about timing – and a good deal. It was his longtime relationship with Blank Rome Chairman David Girard-diCarlo that brought Diaz to the firm originally in 1997. Diaz left in 2001 to serve as city solicitor under Mayor John F. Street’s administration and ultimately returned to Blank Rome in 2004 after stepping down from the government role. At that point, Girard-diCarlo was becoming less involved with day-to-day management, and last year Carl M. Buchholz replaced Fred Blume as managing partner. “It’s the right time to go when you have a new managing partner you don’t have a relationship with,” Diaz said. Since rejoining Blank Rome, Diaz – a former Philadelphia common pleas judge and general counsel of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – focused a lot of his practice on government relations. Blank Rome’s international interests and Republican contacts compared with Cozen O’Connor’s ties to local government and the Democratic Party made his new firm a better fit, Diaz said. Blank Rome, he said, is very strong on the Republican side, but he said he thinks the Democratic Party is gaining strength nationally. Both Diaz and Cozen O’Connor Chairman Stephen A. Cozen are close to presidential hopeful Bill Richardson. Diaz said Blank Rome’s international focus – in Hong Kong and Brussels – “didn’t mean anything” to him because his connections are closer to home. Blank Rome’s government relations subsidiary has a strong base in Washington, D.C., while Cozen O’Connor’s government affairs practice has ties to the mid-Atlantic. “My local relationships and dedication to Philadelphia is usually a lot more important than my dedication to the Washington scene,” Diaz said. Buchholz said it might be Diaz’s perception that the firm is strong on the Republican side, “but I think we’re very well-balanced.” The firm brought in former Democratic vice presidential hopeful Geraldine Ferraro earlier this year, and has Democrat Peter A. Peyser as the head of its subsidiary, Blank Rome Government Relations. (Blank Rome will bring in another Democrat on June 11 when Philadelphia Managing Director Pedro Ramos joins the firm. See the article here.) Over the past few years, Diaz has focused his practice on government relations, mediation and public affordable housing. He said his addition to the firm would fit well with several Cozen O’Connor partners. New Jersey-based partner Rafael Perez handles a lot of bond work, and Diaz said he anticipates his ties with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., will help with bond opportunities in the Garden State. Diaz said he handles about 30 to 60 mediation cases a year, and he hopes to have Newman work with him on those. Cozen O’Connor’s Chicago office and Diaz’s position as of counsel with the firm will be a significant help to his work outside of the law firm. Diaz sits on the board of Exelon – based in Chicago – and was limited in his involvement under Sarbanes-Oxley legislation because of his partner status at Blank Rome. He said his of counsel position – which pays him more than what he earned as a partner at Blank Rome – would allow him to serve on other boards as well. Cozen O’Connor wanted Diaz to start on May 1, but he said he had to finish up some cases first, and officially began at his new firm yesterday. “They hadn’t been very happy with my move,” he said of Blank Rome. “They weren’t happy that I just picked up and left.” Diaz said he hopes there is no legal trouble resulting from his departure, but has looked to hire an outside person to help handle his split from the firm and ensure he gets his capital contributions back. He wants to keep his strong relationship with Blank Rome, he said, which is why he hired someone else to handle those negotiations. Buchholz said he expects a smooth transition with Diaz’s departure, and the firm will do everything it can to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible. He said he wishes Diaz well in his new endeavor. Coming with Diaz to Cozen O’Connor are some of his largest clients, including Banco Popular and engineering firm URS Corp. Buchholz said he anticipates that some clients will stay with the firm and others will follow Diaz to Cozen O’Connor. As an active member of the Hispanic bar, Diaz said he has dedicated his life to diversity issues and has seen increasing pressure from clients to staff their matters with diverse attorneys. He said Blank Rome partner Christopher Lewis was the only black partner when Diaz began at the firm 10 years ago. That number went up to nine or 10, he said, but is now down to around four. While Blank Rome “has a great mission statement,” most of its minority attorneys are at the associate level, leaving several years before they become partner, he said. “I don’t have a while,” Diaz said. He turned 60 last week and said he plans on practicing for another 10 years or so. He said Cozen O’Connor is more diverse. Buchholz said Blank Rome is committed to diversity. Last year he named Cincinnati-based partner Nathaniel R. Jones as the firm’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. Cozen O’Connor formalized its government relations practice in January, pulling together existing firm partners who were already handling the work. Jeffrey L. Nash of the firm’s Cherry Hill, N.J., office, and Raymond B. Harding of the New York office head up the practice. Nash is active in New Jersey government matters. He was appointed by then-Gov. James E. McGreevy as vice-chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority. Diaz was the youngest judge elected in Philadelphia to the Court of Common Pleas, and the first Latino judge in Pennsylvania’s history. He served on the court until 1993, when he went on to become the first Latino to be confirmed and named to a general counsel position in a presidential administration. He is a former chairman of the Hispanic Caucus for the Democratic National Committee and is one of 46 Hispanics to serve on a Fortune 100 board.

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