Cynthia Hanawalt
Cynthia Hanawalt ()

A former partner at a New York City-based firm that represents large institutional investors in complex class action securities lawsuits is joining New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, with two other new hires.

Cynthia Hanawalt is the AG’s new chief enforcement officer for the Investor Protection Bureau. Her first day was Monday.

The move may signal Schneiderman is getting ready to take the lead in legal actions against financial services companies for violations of securities laws if the federal government backs off such cases under the Trump administration.

Hanawalt had been a litigator at Bleichmar Fonti & Auld since August 2014. The Columbia Law School graduate previously was an associate at Labaton Sucharow, a powerhouse plaintiff firm that specializes in securities litigation.

“I am so excited to be joining attorney general Schneiderman’s team, which is committed to fighting for a marketplace that is fair and transparent for all New Yorkers,” Hanawalt said Tuesday. “I look forward to using my career as a securities prosecutor to help fulfill the mission of the office.”

In August 2014, four partners from Labaton Sucharow—known for its investigations and lawsuits against large financial services companies, including a $725 million settlement from American International Group Inc. on fraud allegations obtained after eight years of litigation—left the firm to start Bleichmar Fonti.

“Cynthia was instrumental in obtaining an extraordinary recovery in the MF global securities litigation case while a partner at Bleichmar Fonti & Auld,” Javier Bleichmar, a founding partner of Bleichmar Fonti & Auld, told the New York Law Journal. “We will miss her tremendously and have no doubt about her upcoming success at the AG’s office.”

Schneiderman’s office also said yesterday that it hired Julie Ulmet as its new deputy bureau chief in the Labor Bureau. Prior to joining Schneiderman’s office, Ulmet had been a senior field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board since September 2009. While at the NLRB, she litigated several cases of unlawful discharge and violations of collective bargaining.

Ulmet was general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board when Administrative Law Judge Kenneth Chu ruled in May 2016 that a Westchester County nursing home violated federal labor laws when it fired several supporters of the 1199 Service Employees International Union—the state’s powerful health care union—and subcontracted with a company to avoid bargaining with a union it did not want to recognize. The judge ruled for the employees and ordered them reinstated in a decision of more than 100 pages. The NLRB upheld the judge’s decision in March.

While at the labor board, Ulmet was the recipient of the 2016 Norton J. Come Award, which recognizes a single attorney annually for legal excellence. Prior to joining the labor board, Ulmet had clerked for the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico and was as an associate at Morrison & Foerster. Ulmet said, “After spending the previous part of my career in a federal labor law agency, I recognize that at this time, the most important efforts to protect workers’ rights will occur at the state and local levels. I am honored to have the opportunity to join the team in the Labor Bureau, which has been recognized as the gold standard in state labor law enforcement. I thank attorney general Schneiderman for welcoming me to this office, and I look forward to joining the fight to ensure that all workers in our state, especially immigrant workers and other workers in low-wage industries, are treated fairly on the job.”

Ulmet is replacing ReNika Moore, who was elevated to the position of bureau chief after former chief, Terri Gerstein, left for a fellowship at the Open Society Foundations.

A third hire, Kathleen Konopka, is scheduled to start with Schneiderman’s office in September as senior enforcement counsel for the Social Justice Division. For roughly five years, Konopka was a senior litigator at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. Prior to that, she was of counsel at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, a National Law Journal 2016 Plaintiffs’ Hot List firm.

“I am thrilled to continue my career in public service with the New York attorney general. The office has been at the forefront in finding innovative solutions to protect and vindicate the rights of New York’s residents, and I look forward to contributing to that effort with the Social Justice Division,” Konopka said in a statement.

In November, Schneiderman and the head of the national association of state financial regulators said they would resist against attempts by the administration to weaken so-called “Blue Sky” securities laws such as New York’s Martin Act meant to protect investors against fraudulent practices. The state’s AG and the Department of Financial Services have indicated they may be prepared to flex their muscles if President Donald Trump attempted to make good on campaign promises to undo the Dodd-Frank Act and otherwise reduce financial services regulations.

At the time, Schneiderman’s spokesman said, he “will remain focused on rooting out fraud in financial markets, protecting consumers and ensuring equal protection under the law for all New Yorkers.” DFS superintendent Maria Vullo said in a statement then that, “DFS works every day to anticipate and stay [a]head of events affecting the financial services industry, will continue to protect consumers and our financial markets and will seek opportunities to further the department’s mission.” Ulmet’s statement also indicates that Schneiderman’s office is preparing to push back against Trump administration rollbacks of Obama-era Labor Department initiatives.

Schneiderman said in a statement, “We believe it’s as important as ever to add smart litigators who have the experience and drive to protect the rights of New Yorkers and stand-up for the rule of law, I’m very pleased to welcome these three talented and seasoned attorneys to our team.”