Firm forms public affairs division


Photo by Steve Thorpe

New practice group includes former U.S. Rep. McCotter

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

David Ottenwess sees a bright future in helping clients navigate the treacherous shoals of modern government.

The recent addition of Matthew Schenk rounds out the team for Ottenwess, Allman, and Taweel’s new Government and Public Affairs Division.

Schenk will team with managing partner David Ottenwess and former U.S. Representative Thaddeus McCotter, who is of counsel at the firm.

The firm says the new group will “help clients anticipate and address complex obstacles in all dealings with governmental officials and agencies, from managing difficult delays and bureaucratic indifference to adverse regulatory actions and litigation.”

“Matt is one of the sharpest people I’ve ever met,” Ottenwess says. “He and Thad McCotter combine a great deal of ‘brain power.’ I’m a little intimidated when I share a room with them.”

Schenk has had many roles in government, including chief operating officer and chief compliance officer of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, where he was instrumental in the push to make the department a regional public authority.

He also had major roles in Wayne County government, including chief of staff to the county executive, assistant county executive, and principal attorney supervising the Municipal Law section of the county’s Law Department. He also worked for the City of Detroit for seven years in both its legislative and executive branches of government, including in the Law Department as legislative assistant corporation counsel.

McCotter served in Congress from 2003-2012 and was twice selected by his colleagues as chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee, which at the time was the 4th ranking position in the
GOP caucus. He also served on the Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Small Business, Budget and Joint Economic Committees.

McCotter also has both local and state government experience. He was elected to the Wayne County Commission in 1992 where he worked to amend the county charter so that new taxes would require the approval of two-thirds of the Commission and 60 percent of voters.

He was then elected to the Michigan State Senate in 1998 before moving on to Washington.

All three attorneys have deep Michigan roots, were born and educated in the Detroit area and know that “Faygo” is not a dessert wine from Tuscany.

“It’s an unintentional benefit,” says Ottenwess. “We certainly all have in common that we care about Michigan. Matt and Thad have served the people of the state. I went to law school here and have had my office here (in Detroit) since law school. We have a stake in the city of Detroit. That’s our common denominator.”

Despite all his degrees, Schenk seems to boast most proudly of being a Cass Tech High School grad, while McCotter heckles him gently from across the room.

McCotter was an all-state football player at Detroit Catholic Central High School where he played on both the offensive and defensive lines.

Known as quite a character and wit during both his time in Congress and his brief 2011 presidential campaign, McCotter was equally at home tearing off a screeching electric guitar riff or playing flag football with fellow members of Congress.

“We were playing a congressional football game when (legendary former Nebraska football coach) Tom Osborne was still in Congress. He was talking to (Rep. William) Shuster of Pennsylvania and said, ‘You know, this is the first time in my football coaching career that I ever looked down the bench at my defensive tackle and he was smoking.’ Later he said to me, ‘If you quit smoking, you could be a really good athlete.’ I said, ‘It’s a little late.’ “

McCotter graduated first in his class summa cum laude with honors from the University of Detroit, and then earned his law degree from the University of Detroit School of Law.

All three emphasize that the new group is focused on practicing law, not lobbying.

“Lobbying firms have always had lawyers,” McCotter says. “This is a legal firm. I could’ve become a lobbyist, but I want to be a lawyer.”

Another strength the team believes it brings to the table is the firm’s long commitment to and expertise in health care law. As health care and government increasingly intersect, they think clients will appreciate that mix.

“Health care costs have become a much bigger factor in both government and business,” Schenk says. “So taking advantage of a government affairs practice together with a health care practice offers tremendous opportunities for municipal clients as well. It’s a very nice working relationship within the firm to be able to offer those kinds of services.”

Ottenwess believes that the issue is becoming more complex, not less, and thinks that will offer a valuable opportunity for his firm.

“With Obamacare and the complex regulations going into place — changing even as they’re being implemented — clients all have a need for this type of service,” he says. “Bringing health care and government affairs work into one office is going to be highly effective for our clients.”