TED AND NINA WELLS
It’s two days after the election, and Nina and Ted Wells can’t stop talking about their new Krueger coffeemaker.
Ted, partner and co-chair of the litigation department for Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, had one like it in the hotel room he used as an office while defending Citigroup against a $1.92 billion lawsuit from Parmalat—a five-month trial. (He won—and also earned Citigroup $364.2 million in damages.) Ted liked the coffeemaker so much that he bought one for the couple’s Livingston home after the case closed.
They’ve certainly needed the caffeine. Nina, New Jersey’s secretary of state, had been overseeing voting across New Jersey until midnight on election night (largely uneventful, though a few machines acted up). Ted watched the returns with the couple’s two children. The next evening, he hosted a dinner for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, an event that raised more than $3 million.
It’s been quite a run for the couple.
They met in Washington, D.C., while in high school. Their families always got together for the holidays; when Nina and Ted were both 21, they married at Christmas dinner. (“The whole wedding cost $50, including the dress,” says Nina.)
The pair moved to New Jersey from the Boston area, where they both went to law school (Ted at Harvard, Nina at Suffolk). The move was prompted by Ted securing a clerkship with John J. Gibbons, former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals and past president of the New Jersey State Bar Association. They didn’t expect the relocation to be permanent. “[Gibbons] told me to stay and practice in New Jersey, and it turned out to be the best move I’ve made,” says Ted.
Nina first worked in the City of Newark’s law department. She moved on to corporate law, then served as head of the Division of Rate Counsel in the Department of Public Advocate under Governor Jim Florio. Later, she became vice president of public affairs for pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough and president of the Schering-Plough Foundation. She was appointed secretary of state in 2006.
“It’s the perfect job for the perfect time in my life right now, unlike the years when I was balancing work and family,” says Nina, nestled in a black leather chair in her living room, still wearing the soft blue knit suit she chose for work that day. “Right now, I can do it all at the same time. I’m available seven days a week.” Nina oversees a broad range of state programs, including the arts, history, culture, travel, and tourism. Additionally, for the first time in ten years, the Division of Elections came back to the Department of State, which is what kept her up late on November 4.
Her term—which expires in January 2010—has not always been smooth sailing. State budget cuts knocked her departments squarely in the jaw, and she worked straight through the government shutdown of 2006. “I waited in that kitchen to leave for vacation,” says Ted of the shutdown. They never left. Nina had to stay to certify the budget. “She slept on the couch in the Statehouse,” he says.
After clerking, Ted went into criminal defense. He may not look like a fierce criminal-defense lawyer, though he is often cited as one of the best in the country. (The National Law Journal named him Lawyer of the Year in 2006.) He laughs loud and often, and his voice retains a trace of Southern drawl, much more pronounced than his wife’s. He’s big, too—6 foot 3—but still carries himself like the athlete he was in high school. He attended college at Holy Cross in Massachusetts, on a football scholarship, but gave up sports to focus on studies.
Though not exactly a litigator to the stars, Ted has defended a varied list of politicians: I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former Bush White House adviser (obstruction and perjury); Robert G. Torricelli, former U.S. senator from New Jersey (failing to report campaign gifts); Floyd Flake, former congressman from New York (tax evasion and embezzlement); Mike Espy, former Clinton agriculture secretary (corruption); Raymond J. Donovan, former Reagan labor secretary (fraud). And, most recently, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer (solicitation of prostitutes).
A fundraising pro, Ted served as treasurer for Senator Bill Bradley’s presidential run and campaign finance chairman for Representative Donald Payne.
The couple has two grown children, both of whom followed in the family footsteps. Son Phillip, 28, is a lawyer. Daughter Teresa, 30, also a lawyer, is chief media strategist at the Rockefeller Foundation. She came to the job after working on Senator John Edwards’s presidential campaign. She also worked as Governor Jon Corzine’s traveling press secretary.
As for what’s next, Ted can’t talk about new clients—though he seems willing to discuss the Spitzer case until Nina reminds him that those details are still confidential.
Nina is not sure what she will do beyond her present term, saying she could return to corporate law or a foundation. For now, she is New Jersey’s secretary of state. Period.
“I only have this position for four years and want to make the most of it,” she says.
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