Although she remains the only woman to ever serve as Connecticut's attorney general, Clarine Nardi Riddle is perhaps better known these days as a Washington insider. She's been a longtime chief of staff for former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman and the leader of efforts to create a more bipartisan approach in the nation's capital.
With Lieberman retiring from the Senate this year, Riddle needed a new job. Last week, she landed one at Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, which ranks in the top 125 on the AmLaw 200 list. Though the firm is New York-based, Riddle won't have to leave D.C. She's launching a new Washington office, with her practice focusing on government affairs. According to her new bosses, she will attempt to expand the firm's presence on Capitol Hill and advise clients on a range of regulatory and public policy issues.
"Clarine's extensive political and legal experience will be an invaluable asset to our clients who seek counsel in navigating a range of matters involving the intersection of business and government," said Marc Kasowitz, the firm's founding and managing partner.
Riddle told the Law Tribune: "It's really great and I'm really excited about this opportunity. And it's nice that I'm going to work with Senator Lieberman."
In mid-June, the Kasowitz firm announced it had hired Lieberman, whose evolving practice will likely include advising clients who are the subject of government investigations. Even though Lieberman will be working out of the New York City office, Riddle, who joins the firm as counsel, doubts that their working relationship is over. "There's things called email, and phones and video conferencing," she said.
Riddle is a native of Indiana and a graduate of Indiana University Law School. Her résumé includes service as deputy corporation counsel for New Haven, a Connecticut Superior Court judge and deputy attorney general under Lieberman, who served as AG form 1983 to 1989.
Then-Governor William O'Neill appointed Riddle to the attorney general's post after Lieberman was elected to the U.S. Senate. She served as AG from 1989 to 1991.
To date, she is the only woman who has held that job. Riddle also was the first female attorney general from any state to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court. She successfully argued Martin W. Hoffman v. Connecticut Department of Income Maintenance, et.al., a complicated case that centered on whether a bankrupt convalescent home had the right to sue the state in a dispute over Medicaid payments. "I felt so honored at the time," Riddle said. "I will never forget it."
She recalled that during oral arguments, Chief Justice Rehnquist did not know how to refer to her. The justices typically referred to male attorneys general who argued before them as "General" and then their last name. But Rehnquist was stumped and referred to her as "Mrs. Riddle."
"It was a new thing for the court," Riddle said. "It was a new thing for me."
In her new position, she will apparently be making history again for women.
"One girlfriend said, 'I think you're the first woman to open a D.C. office" for a major law firm, Riddle recalls, referring to a lawyer friend who has been in Washington for 45 years. Riddle said she also talked to a headhunter who specializes in attorney placement and he agreed. "I think that's kind of cool," Riddle said.
Riddle's position as chief of staff to Lieberman involved participating in and leading congressional staff delegations to countries such as Switzerland, China, Thailand, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and China. She was perhaps most visible when Lieberman was chosen in 2000 to run for vice president by Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore.
In one CNN interview, Riddle rebuted suggestions that Lieberman might not be able to carry out the duties of the vice presidency because of his Orthodox Jewish faith and his observance of religious holidays and the sabbath.
In that same interview, she spoke about working with Lieberman in the Connecticut Attorney General's Office. "When he was attorney general, he was inclusive," Riddle, who now lives in Alexandria, said. "He was very fair. He was very balanced and judicious in his demeanor. He listened to people. He was tough when he needed to be tough. But first and foremost, he always cared fundamentally about the individuals who were a part of the lawsuits or legal cases he was working on. In other words, he was very concerned about the impact, of any of his activities, on the people of the State of Connecticut."
In Washington, Riddle is also known for her bipartisan efforts. In his final years in the Senate, Lieberman left the Democratic Party and became an Independent. Riddle is the founder of No Labels, an organization of Republicans, Democrats and Independents attempting to find better approaches dedicated to a new politics of problem-solving on Capitol Hill.
"I'm so happy I'm a part of that," Riddle said. "It's a group of Democrats, Republicans and Independents who are tired of the gridlock in D.C."
Will that effort help her in her new job? Definitely, Riddle said. "There's no question I'm going to be pitching myself as someone who works with both sides of the aisle."
Riddle said that in her new role she will lobby for her clients, if that's what it takes. But in other instances, she'll simply provide guidance in dealing with the sprawling government bureacracy. She acknowledged that her new job is an extension of what she has done with Lieberman. As an aide to a senator, Riddle said, "you hear from constituents about their needs."
She said she looks forward to helping her new clients, many of them far more prominent, get their voice heard in government. "It's something that I very much like to do … and know a little bit about."
Riddle said that a staff will be hired eventually for the D.C. office. "Down the road we will be lining other people up for those positions," Riddle said. "We just want to put in a toehold right now and talk with [clients] about their needs."•