Matt Katz, New Jersey Public Radio
This is what people say about Randy Mastro: He will "fight you to the end." You don’t want to "meet Randy down a dark alley." Going up against him is like "wrestling an alligator."
And that's just what Mastro wants you to know — those are right off the web site of his high-powered law firm, Gibson Dunn.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's internal review of his office's action in the Bridgegate scandal is continuing, with findings expected to be publicly released any day now. Those findings may have a lot to do with Mastro, the man leading the investigation.
Mastro has represented international banks, tennis stars and casinos. Until recently he led the legal team representing the Port Authority that protected 339 documents, including communications between the Port Authority and the governors of New York and New Jersey, in a lawsuit over a major toll hike.
And now, New Jersey taxpayers are spending $650-an-hour for Mastro to represent Christie in the scandals enveloping his administration.
"They’re working really hard, they’re working diligently, and I can’t wait for them to be finished so I can get the full story here," Christie said last month.
The Republican governor characterized Mastro's work as an internal review, but the review is also external. Mastro has requested to interview the mayor of Fort Lee, where the famous Bridgegate traffic occurred, and the mayor of Hoboken, who alleged that Christie tried to shake her down for Sandy aid. The mayors declined the requests.
Mastro has additionally asked the mayors for documents. The borough of Fort Lee turned over more than 2,000 pages.
"I think it was completely inappropriate," said Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat who co-chairs of the legislature’s committee investigating the Bridgegate scandal. She says there’s no reason for Christie’s lawyer to question the mayors when both state and federal investigations are under way. "I think it’s meant to confuse people. It’s meant to obfuscate what’s going on, and to give him...some coverage in terms of, 'We’re looking into my office.'"
Mastro is the son of a Bernardsville, N.J., councilman who was also a political science professor. Mastro has worked for or with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for much of the last three decades, ultimately becoming his deputy mayor of operations and point man in tackling organized crime.
Mastro later led a campaign to stop a change to the city’s term limits law. At the time, he said he was taking on Mayor Michael Bloomberg for all New Yorkers. "This case is so important to our local democracy. And when elected officials fail us, the courts are our place for justice," he said in 2008.
Mastro wouldn’t speak for this story, but he has been described as masterful and theatrical in a court room. He is now representing the oil company Chevron as it fights a $9.5 billion judgment against it.
Christopher Gowen represents the environmental activists who won that case on behalf of Ecuadorians victimized by a massive oil spill in the rainforest. To fight the judgment, Mastro brought the case to New York and demonstrated his aggressive style: Flipping arguments on their face. Attacking accusers. And requesting loads of information.
Mastro took the unusual step of suing the environmentalists based on an anti-mafia racketeering law. He convinced judges to demand the environmentalists turn over emails, a hard drive, cell a phone, a personal diary, and 600 hours of outtakes from a documentary that was sympathetic to them.
"Their method is, if someone is in trouble and they have a lot of money, they will try a lot of different tactics that are extremely aggressive and are really not about defending the person and the lawsuit they’re in, and more about attacking the lawyers and the victims filing suit against his clients," Gowen said. "When I see things about requesting just thousand and thousands of documents from a small town on the GW Bridge, that to me doesn’t seem like someone defending Chris Christie or seeking justice. It sounds to me like someone going after those who are accusing Chris Christie."
But just last week, Gowen’s team lost their case. A federal judge agreed with Mastro, writing in a nearly 500-page ruling that the environmentalists won their initial judgment against Chevron through coercion and bribery.
Mastro doesn’t just fight for corporate giants. Muzzy Rosenblatt and his Bowery Residents Committee wanted to build a homeless shelter in Chelsea and went looking for an attorney when a community group opposed it.
"I didn’t just need a lawyer," Rosenblatt said. "I needed Randy Mastro."
Rosenblatt described Mastro as "a fierce and dogged and tireless pursuer of the facts."
"When you go into a courtroom there’s nobody you want more than Randy," Rosenblatt said. "And if you’re on the other side there’s no one you want to see less than Randy because there’s nobody who’s going to know the law better, there’s nobody who is going to know the case better, than Randy Mastro."
Mastro won that case. He has often gotten involved in very local, very New York matters. And not all have been successful. Like when he represented some well-connected Park Slope residents who sought to get a one-mile bike lane removed. Aaron Naparstek, then a local activist, went up against Mastro and his team.
"Their strategy is to just beat you to death with legal fees, and time-wasting requests, and just continuations, appeals. Just make the case go on for as long as possible," said Naparstek, who is now a researcher at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
Mastro’s side lost, but the appeal goes on.
In the Christie case, four former federal prosecutors are working with him to represent the governor. One of those attorneys, Debra Wong Yang, is a long-time friend of Christie who co-chairs Gibson Dunn's crisis management group alongside Mastro.
Rosenblatt said Mastro is perfectly suited to that role.
"When you're fighting for your own survival, I needed to know I had someone who didn’t just believe in us but could separate the emotion from the facts and lead us to calm waters on the other side," he said.
Christie now finds himself in that very situation.