The Winner’s Circle

When the choice is win, place or show, Christina Vassiliou Harvey opts for win-win

Published in 2012 New Jersey Rising Stars — April 2012

Christina Vassiliou Harvey learned two things while working for the Navy. First: how to handle the tactical art of negotiation. Second: Lawyers have all the fun.

Fresh out of college, Harvey took a civilian job with the Navy’s federal acquisitions team in Philadelphia. As a contract specialist, she purchased items needed for multiple types of aircraft.

“I like to say I bought the jets,” she says with a laugh.

Actually, her biggest acquisition was ice probes for helicopters. “If you’re in inclement weather, you have to make sure that the helicopter can function,” she says. Negotiation skills were drilled in. “You had to follow all these different procedures to make sure you were getting the best price for the government while also encouraging competition. … We took a class as to how to get a win-win relationship: how you deal with people, how you get the best price for whatever you’re seeking.”

Harvey now wields her negotiating expertise as an associate at Freehold’s Lomurro Davison Eastman & Muñoz, handling personal injury and commercial litigation matters. “You have to look at not what your bottom line is—and maybe it’s not a monetary thing—but negotiation with a broader scheme: What are [the client’s] goals and values, and what are your goals and values; where do they intersect?”

Harvey began laying steppingstones for her future in high school. “I interned for the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, and I stayed an intern throughout college,” she says. “I got to work each summer like a real detective: I prepped the cases for the prosecutors before they went to a grand jury. I was given the skills to look at a case and see: Here are the elements of the crime; do we have the evidence to present to a grand jury in order to indict it? It was a fascinating experience.”

While working for the Navy, she was involved in a bid protest over one of her acquisitions. “I realized that the fun part of the job was actually what the lawyers did in negotiating,” she says, “getting to do the investigation [of] whether or not the work was done properly.”

In recent years, Harvey, 34, has gone toe-to-toe with her former employer—the U.S. government—at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and has handled appeals before the 9th Circuit and the New Jersey Supreme Court. A former philosophy major, she enjoys the analytical aspects of appellate law.

“You really get to think about the consequences of the cases, not just in terms of your facts,” she says. “[Judges] want to hear the public policy involved; they want you to analyze the case with different hypotheticals.”

The case before the state Supreme Court was one of her most thrilling—garnering a decision in less than a week. Harvey’s team sued the New Jersey Horse Racing Commission for upholding a Canadian-forced suspension of a champion horse that was to race in the prestigious Hambletonian Oaks Filly Division. The suspension had been enacted when traces of the human antidepressant Effexor were found in the filly’s urine after a Toronto victory.

“This was a prize horse—you just don’t have this caliber of horse,” says Harvey. “She had won, in a row, all 11 of her last races. ... Through some investigation, we actually found that the watershed for the area where the race track was located [had] high levels of the Effexor. So that was one basis for where the drug might have come from.” But Canadian law is based on absolute liability, so the fact that the drug was present at all was enough to ban the horse from racing for 90 days. The New Jersey commission wouldn’t budge: no Hambletonian.

“We filed our application for emergent relief on Tuesday after we got the decision from the racing commission saying that they wouldn’t allow her to race. That Wednesday, papers were filed with the appellate division and they issued their response on Thursday. We then hand-delivered the papers to the [state] Supreme Court and got our stay by Friday afternoon,” says Harvey.

The whirlwind effort paid off. The filly was able to race and came in third at the Oaks. Harvey enjoyed parsing out the foreign, constitutional and administrative legal issues. “There were concepts that you just don’t come across in everyday cases, that I had to brief,” she says. And there was a bit of glam: “I actually got to go to the race where our horse came in first in the qualifier and go into the winner’s circle.”

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