- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will head the new Maryland office of a North Carolina-based law firm with a history of lobbying in favor of gambling legislation.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican who has kept a low profile since an unsuccessful bid for re-election last fall, will work for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC, one of North Carolina’s largest law firms.

According to its Web site, the firm has been “heavily involved in gaming-law issues for the past 15 years,” representing a American Indian casino and the contractor for the video lottery in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Mr. Ehrlich, a proponent of slot-machine legislation during his term, dismissed the notion that the move is an attempt to remain a key player in the slots debate.

” really wasn’t a focal point at all,” he said yesterday. “It may have been mentioned in passing, but it certainly wasn’t a factor . Business development will clearly be my focus in the next few years.”

Mr. Ehrlich said he decided on joining Womble Carlyle from among a number of suitors.

“I wanted to go with a successful firm, one that was entrepreneurial,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “And I wanted to bring a number of members of my senior staff with me.”

Mr. Ehrlich, 49, earned a law degree in 1982 from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

He will head up the company’s new office, temporarily located near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The branch will move to a permanent location within the next two months.

The firm has 500 lawyers and 700 staff members in 11 offices, including Tysons Corner and the District.

Keith W. Vaughan, chairman of Womble Carlyle’s management committee, said the move gives the company flexibility and allows for restructuring.

“We’re excited about this on a number of levels,” Mr. Vaughan said. “We want to bring in people and teams who can process a number of works at various levels, and be innovative in their approach.”

Mr. Ehrlich is one of several former politicians to join the firm after leaving office. Former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., a Democrat, joined the firm’s Raleigh office in 2001.

Mr. Hunt said yesterday Mr. Ehrlich will be an asset to the company, championing him as an “economic-development governor.”

“He was clearly that type of governor 100,000 new jobs created, the list goes on,” Mr. Hunt said.

In 2002, Mr. Ehrlich defeated then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat, to become Maryland’s first Republican governor since 1966. He lost his re-election bid in November to then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

Because he served only one term, Mr. Ehrlich’s gubernatorial pension will be worth $50,000 a year, and state guidelines dictate that he will not receive it until he turns 55.

Mr. Ehrlich is eligible for an $11,637 annual pension from his eight years in Congress when he turns 62. He would have been eligible at age 60 for a pension from his years in the legislature, but he decided at the time not to participate in the plan.

Mr. Ehrlich’s former political peers gave him their votes of confidence yesterday.

“He has some great ideas that this state has benefited from,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican. “I hope they don’t forget their roots in Maryland.”

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, said he has “no doubt” Mr. Ehrlich will prosper in the private sector with Womble Carlyle.

“These guys are the consummate professionals, and Bobby Ehrlich knows what he’s doing,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Tom LoBianco contributed to this article.

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