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MENNA PARTNERS WITH BECK SLATEMATE

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Mayor Pasquale Menna, a lifelong liberal Democrat, has merged his one-man legal practice into a three-lawyer partnership that includes Republican Caroline Casagrande.

Yes, that Caroline Casagrande, who’s running for a 12th-district Assembly seat on the same ticket as state Senate hopeful, Assemblywoman and former Red Bank Councilwoman Jennifer Beck.

The new firm, called Menna, Supko & Casagrande , also includes Michael P. Supko, Jr., from the Red Bank office of Gluck Walrath, co-headed by former Fair Haven Councilman Chris Walrath. Casagrande comes from the Matawan firm of Cleary, Alfieri, Jones & Hoyle.

The threesome set up shop at 167 Avenue of the Commons in Shrewsbury last Friday. Menna’s former office was in the onetime Sun Bank branch opposite the post office on Broad Street in Red Bank.

Partnering with the opposition? Moving out of Red Bank? What on earth?

Menna tells redbankgreen this is a necessary step for his practice, but one he’s taking gladly because he’s known both his partners socially for several years and is comfortable with them.

He says he foresees no political conflicts, either with Casagrande or his fellow Dems in the Karcher/Panter/Mallet camp, where incumbent Sen. Ellen Karcher is hoping to fend off Beck’s challenge; Shrewsbury resident and Assemblyman Mike Panter hopes to do the same against Casagrande and Little Silver Councilman Declan O’Scanlon; and Fair Haven newcomer Amy Mallet hopes to fill Beck’s assembly spot.

“I’m not interfering with Caroline’s campaign, Mike Panter’s campaign, or interjecting myself in any way,” Menna said, noting that such mixed-bedfellows arrangements are not uncommon in the legal biz.

Menna fashions himself as a consensus-builder — a characteristic some of his critics hold against him. His move in January to the mayoralty after 18 years on the borough council is widely seen as having cooled, if not an eliminated, long-boiling tensions between the dominant Democrats and firebrand Republican John Curley.

Moreover, Menna has often spoken of his fondness for Casagrande’s running mate Beck.

Nor does he expect the distractions of the ’07 race to hamper the new firm.

“Obviously, Caroline’s going to be busy campaigning pretty hard for the next month or so, but she’s putting in incredible hours,” he said. “But we’ll help each other out. We’ll get through it.”

The fusion came about, Menna said, as an outgrowth of conversations with Supko, who was looking to go out on his own “so he could grow in his own particular strengths” in public finance.

“Then Caroline started enabling us so we would all be able to come together,” he said. “It’s just a good mix because we enjoy working with each other, as people and as professionals.”

A fourth lawyer whom Menna wouldn’t name also considered joining, which would have created “the dream team,” Menna said, “but that’s going to have to wait for now.”

For Menna, the arrangement was appealing because, after about 15 years on his own, “I needed assistance, I needed collaborators,” he said.

He’s most likely to get immediate help from Casagrande, who mines the same vein of the law that Menna does: local government representation. As we reported in a profile of him last year:

He’s the municipal prosecutor in Deal, where he handles cases twice a month. He’s the municipal prosecutor in Eatontown, which takes up his Thursday mornings. Fridays are given over to Asbury Park, where he’s the code prosecutor. Once a month he appears at the unified planning and zoning board in Keyport, where he’s the attorney to the board. And twice a month he’s at the Matawan Borough Council as borough attorney, a job he says takes up “a lot of hours a month.” He’s the prosecutor also in Oceanport.

Through the Cleary firm, Casagrande has served as associate borough attorney in Fair Haven (her former partner, Salvatore Alfieri, holds the official appointment) and is currently township attorney in Manalapan, according to her bio on the GOP website.

Now in her early 30s, Casagrande is a Spring Lake native and graduate of Red Bank Catholic, Penn State and Rutgers Law School.

At GluckWalrath, Supko’s responsibilities included “representing public and private entities for taxable and tax exempt financings and issues relating to the formation of revenue allocation districts,” according to a bio still posted on the firm’s website.

Supko, who’s in his mid-30s, serves as the attorney for the Holmdel Township Board of Health.

Here’s Menna answering some of the questions we tossed his way:

On sleeping with the enemy, so to speak:
“We can all agree to disagree. It has nothing to do with the personal respect we have for each other.”

On the sniping he said he’s heard about the merger:
“Candidly, there are always people who are happy being Monday-morning quarterbacks, but those are not the people who are your real friends, anyhow. Because if they were your friends, they would realize that they’ve never stepped up to the plate to help in one way or the other in terms of assisting, where we could all practice law and have a little bit of spare time for ourselves. But I needed the help, and a few of the people who are criticizing this move are the people who never said, ‘Hey, I’ll pull up a chair to help you out.'”

On moving his business out of Red Bank:
“It’s very simple. You would have been asking me questions, if I’d rented [in Red Bank] from PRC or Hovnanian or any of the major landlords, whose space I was renting, and how much I was paying, and whether or not it was market [rate], or if it was 25 cents more or less than somebody else. Well, I wanted to ignore all those issues because I thought it was best to keep my independence from various property owners and developers in Red Bank.”

[His new landlord, Vincent Russo, hasn’t got any projects in Red Bank, Menna says.]

On healthcare insurance [Menna had previously pledged to drop the borough coverage offered to elected officials once he made arrangements for private-sector coverage]:
“Right now we don’t have it. We’re still living out of the boxes. But we will get to that, yes. I have not forgotten about that.”

On being the senior attorney (by about two decades) over his new partners:
Casagrande “is young and terribly bright, and has a tremendous amount of energy, which is good, because I’m getting older and need that.”

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