Dentons offices in Washington, D.C., at 1900 K Street, N.W. March 30, 2017.
Dentons offices in Washington, D.C., at 1900 K Street, N.W. March 30, 2017. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Joseph Mohorovic, an Obama-appointed Republican on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is leaving the agency to join Dentons, where he will split his time between the Chicago and Washington offices as a principal working on regulatory and compliance matters.

A former New Mexico state representative and executive at the product testing company Intertek, Mohorovic was confirmed by the Senate in 2014 for a term that was set to expire in October 2019. His early departure will give the Trump administration an opportunity to further shape the commission. But it will at least briefly leave the president’s pick to lead the agency, acting Chairwoman Ann Marie Buerkle, as the lone Republican commissioner. This circumstance would delay flipping the commission into GOP control.

Trump’s nomination of Dana Baiocco, the Jones Day partner picked to replace outgoing Democratic Commissioner Marietta Robinson, is pending before the U.S. Senate and no confirmation hearing has been set.

Joseph Mohorovic.

Mohorovic, who lives in the Chicago area, cited family considerations and the draw of Dentons’ regulatory practice as the driving factors behind his decision to leave the agency now. The firm, he told The National Law Journal, has a “respected and global product safety team” and provides “best-in-class representation over the full life cycle of a product.” Mohorovic is not a lawyer. Dentons is a powerhouse in the Washington influence industry. 

“I have so thoroughly enjoyed serving as a commissioner at the agency that there’s no really good time to leave. But public service—it’s an honor, but it’s also a sacrifice,” Mohorovic said. “It’s a sacrifice not just for the person serving but also for their families. It just got to a point where I needed to get back. And the pressures of that, while living in Chicago, just got to a point where it was time to leave.”

Dentons, he said, boasts the size he was looking for in a firm. “I thought what would be best for me was big—not boutique. And it doesn’t get any bigger than Dentons,” said Mohorovic, who holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of New Mexico.

“Joe is exceptionally dynamic and will bring clients the unique perspective as a CPSC commissioner together with his deep industry experience, which cuts across many industry sectors,” Mike McNamara, U.S. chief executive of Dentons, said in a statement.

Announcing his departure Wednesday at a public hearing, Mohorovic described Dentons as the “the biggest of Big Law.”

With his decision to leave, Mohorovic is forgoing an opportunity to serve in the majority under Buerkle, an Obama appointee who was renominated by Trump this year for a new, seven-year term that would begin October 2018. Since being installed as the acting chairwoman in February, Buerkle has been outnumbered by her Democratic counterparts, as former Chairman Elliot Kaye’s decision to stay on—albeit as one of the four remaining commissioners—prolonged his party’s 3-2 majority.

In their time together on the commission, Buerkle and Mohorovic have been of the same party but not always of the same mind on votes to advance new regulations or approve penalties against companies.

Mohorovic voted with Democrats to push forward a safety regulation for portable generators to feature technology to automatically shut down the devices when the concentration of carbon monoxide in the air reaches dangerous levels. Buerkle was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 vote. At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Buerkle faced criticism for her opposition to that portable generator proposal.

The Republican duo has also disagreed on penalties. Earlier this year, for instance, Mohorovic voted with Democrats to approve a $5.7 million settlement with Home Depot over allegations that the retailer sold previously recalled products. Buerkle, who has consistently opposed the commission’s penalties, supported a lower penalty of $1 million for Home Depot.

Mohorovic said his departure does not reflect any reservations about serving under Buerkle’s leadership. At Wednesday’s hearing, he said the agency is in Buerkle’s “very capable hands.”

“The president made an outstanding choice in asking you to serve as chairman,” Mohorovic said. “You are an inspiration and beloved by your colleagues, none more so than me.”

Buerkle thanked Mohorovic for his time on the commission, saying “your wit, your humor and your intelligence will all greatly be missed.”