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Former state senator forms new law firm

  Legal Marketing  -   POSTED: 2007/06/07 12:53

After 14 years in politics, former state Sen. Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, is moving on from the Legislature -- but he's not moving very far from politics.

Morrow announced recently that he has partnered with a San Diego attorney to form a new law firm. It will specialize in political and government affairs, and will take on a wide range of legal cases, Morrow said.

"Wouldn't you know that wherever I landed, it would be in the middle of law and politics?" Morrow wrote in a recent e-mail to the North County Times. "That's just where I want to be."

Morrow, who practiced law before politics, joined with Peter Lepiscopo last month to form the new firm, with offices in San Diego and Sacramento.

The two became acquainted when Lepiscopo represented Morrow in a widely reported 2005 lawsuit to force the Carlsbad Unified School District to rescind its cancellation of a town-hall meeting on immigration on school property.

Morrow has a bachelor's degree in political science from UCLA and a law degree from Pepperdine University in Malibu. After law school, he joined the Marines, where he spent much of his time as the chief trial counsel at Camp Pendleton. He later practiced law in San Diego before running for the Assembly.

The former lawmaker, who left the Senate because of term limits, suffered a broken leg in a horseback riding accident in October, he said. He has recovered from his injury but still carries a cane with him, he said.

Speaking recently from his San Diego office, Morrow also said he was getting used to working without the help of a staff after 14 years in Sacramento. He is learning to use a computer and answer e-mails on his own, the 53-year-old former senator said.

"That has been an adjustment," he said. But the recovery after the injury "gave me time to learn how to use the computer and the Internet. I'm still learning, but I've come a long way."

The new law firm, called Lepiscopo and Morrow, LLP, will capitalize on Morrow's government experience, he said. Though state law prohibits the former senator from lobbying directly for one year after leaving office, Morrow said the firm may hire others to work as lobbyists.

Morrow said he doesn't plan to become a lobbyist himself, but said he may supervise others instead.

"It's not my desire to be a registered lobbyist," Morrow said. "There are certain requirements, and I'll be consistent with the law, but I don't want to be a lobbyist myself."

A self-described conservative lawmaker, Morrow worked to curtail "frivolous" lawsuits, counter illegal immigration, reduce state spending and fight new taxes. Morrow stirred controversy two years ago by aligning himself with anti-illegal immigrant groups, such as the Minutemen.

In 2005, Morrow attended a border-watch vigil held along the San Diego County portion of the U.S.-Mexico border by a Minuteman group based in Oceanside.

State Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Carlsbad, who won Morrow's seat, praised the former senator.

"He left a great conservative record as someone who believes in the free market, limited government, people taking personal responsibility and of being tough on crime," Wyland said.

Morrow said he has not ruled out running for public office again, although he said his options are limited.

"I've done my time. I've expressed my ambition of running for Congress," he said. But "I can read the tea leaves and I know that the people who are there are going to be there for a long time."

The conservative Republican lost a special election last year for the 50th Congressional District seat formerly held by the now-imprisoned Randy "Duke" Cunningham -- an election in which Morrow captured only 5.37 percent of the vote.

Fellow Republican Brian Bilbray won the election in a field of 14 Republican candidates. Bilbray then went on to beat Democratic opponent Francine Busby in a June runoff to replace Cunningham through the end of the year and won an election in November to fill the seat for a full term.

Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said Morrow's career path after the Legislature is not unusual. The law firm will allow him to wait while an seat opens or he can stay and influence policy through his work, he said.

"It can work either way, there are former legislators that go into lobbying and then come back to office -- Brian Bilbray comes to mind," Pitney said. "Or they can stay in lobbying and make a lot of money."

Morrow said part of what attracted him to legal work was his interest in constitutional law and conservative advocacy. One of his firm's clients is the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal group that often advocates for religion to play a greater role in public life.

The institute is one of the leading proponents of keeping the Mount Soledad cross as part of the veterans war memorial in San Diego. In 1989, a City Heights resident sued the city, claiming that the 29-foot cross on city property violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

In August, President Bush signed federal legislation expropriating the cross and placing it in the hands of the Department of Defense as a national memorial. But the legal fight over the cross continues.

"As a state senator, I was involved in the political battle to save the cross," Morrow wrote in his e-mail. "As an attorney, I will be directly involved in the legal battle as well."

Jim McElroy, the attorney representing those opposing the cross, disagreed. He said Morrow's law firm represents an advocacy group that is not directly involved in the lawsuit and therefore has little influence on it. The lawsuit involves the federal government, the city of San Diego and his client, McElroy said.

"He's had no involvement to date, and I don't expect that he will have any involvement in the future," McElroy said.

-- Contact staff writer Edward Sifuentes at (760) 740-3511 or esifuentes@nctimes.com.


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