Rajiv Parikh’s idea of a happy ending is when every vote counts
Published in 2015 New Jersey Super Lawyers magazine on March 13, 2015
Lots of lawyers are off on Election Day. Not Rajiv Parikh.
“I find it exhilarating,” says Parikh of his election law practice at Genova Burns. “There are so many moving pieces in an election, in addition to lofty constitutional issues. Every campaign operates as a small business would. They need insurance, they have to sign leases, they need cyber- security measures in place and advice on campaign finance laws.”
He would know. Parikh served as general counsel to Cory Booker’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. His relationship with the former Newark mayor began after the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg in 2013. Gov. Chris Christie called for a special election, giving candidates four days to obtain the required petition signatures to appear on the ballot.
“Hundreds of volunteers ran out to collect signatures over a weekend and dropped them off on Sunday night to a small office in Newark that was converted into a temporary campaign headquarters,” Parikh says. “That day and through the night, three of us—me, a campaign consultant and the only campaign staffer at the time—reviewed the petitions with a handful of volunteers and made sure they were compliant with the law and ready to be submitted to the Division of Elections the next day.”
He’s also general counsel for the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, and is directly responsible for training approximately 120 attorneys who volunteer on each Election Day to speedily address voting rights issues and other legal points. In the 2014 election, that translated into nearly 150 applications in court statewide.
The son of Indian immigrants, Parikh’s journey to law was unexpected. His father is a chemical engineer; his mother is a nurse. “I was more of a science and a business person growing up,” he says.
After graduating from Rutgers in 2001, he took a job at an investment bank. Months later, a few weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, he got laid off.
He went back to school at Rutgers, enrolling in the law school, where he met his wife, Carrie. They have two children, ages 2 and 4.
“I have literally watched Frozen about 25 times,” he says. “I can sing every song and recite every word.”
While election law is one of Parikh’s passions, the bread and butter of his practice is commercial, intellectual property and franchise litigation; and construction law and litigation.
He also makes time to advocate for lawyers with South Asian roots. To that end, he wrapped up his term as president of the South Asian Bar Association’s New Jersey chapter in December 2014.
The group has been in existence for more than a decade, but didn’t have much of a profile. In October 2014, Parikh and the executive board spearheaded its first annual dinner, a fundraiser to support educational and social events that attracted 200 guests and solid corporate sponsorship.
He’s taken his advocacy to the national level, too. He sits on the association’s national board as vice president for affiliate relations. In 2015, the group plans to start a 501(c)(3) foundation devoted to providing scholarships and promoting South Asian lawyers.
“South Asians are relatively new to the legal profession and we want to grow a sense of community,” he says.
That’s something his boss, Angelo J. Genova (“the guru of New Jersey election law,” according to Parikh), says Parikh is particularly good at.
“He is a mentor to many of our junior people, and has an acumen and sense of judgment well beyond his years,” Genova says. “He is eager to help people succeed.”
In helping voters to succeed, party affiliation is a nonissue.
Take, for example, an Election Day suit in Burlington County. At stake were more than 800 ballots cast by mail. The votes were challenged because the applications for the ballots were generated by computer and did not include information on the assister, the person who filled out the applications.
“We did not know how they voted, whether they were Democrats, Republicans, or independents, but it didn’t matter—what mattered was that it was important that those votes be counted,” he says. “The court ultimately found that the sanctity of the ballots was still intact. I call that a happy ending.”