A change maker, in and out of the courtroom

By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
As an attorney with the Providence firm Duffy & Sweeney Ltd., Stacey P. Nakasian has scored some big wins, both inside and outside the courtroom. More

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A change maker, in and out of the courtroom

PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
WINNING ARGUMENTS: Stacey P. Nakasian is an ace litigator for Duffy & Sweeney, and dedicated to Rhode Island’s legal community.
By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
Posted 6/2/14

As an attorney with the Providence firm Duffy & Sweeney Ltd., Stacey P. Nakasian has scored some big wins, both inside and outside the courtroom.

An example of the latter: She helped persuade the Federal Bar Association to hold its upcoming convention in Rhode Island. Several years ago, while serving as president of the association’s local chapter, she attended the group’s convention in Chicago along with U.S. District Judge Mary M. Lisi, of U.S. District Court for Rhode Island. While there, the two came up with a plan to bring the 2014 convention to the Ocean State. And it worked.

“It’s going to bring 400 to 600 delegates to Providence in September,” Nakasian said. “It will be great for the Rhode Island bar and great for our economy.”

Nakasian grew up on her family’s cattle farm in Virginia. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of Virginia and a law degree from the George Washington University, graduating magna cum laude.

“I worked for a law firm between college and law school,” she said. “They assigned me to a legal service office in a poor part of Washington. Working there, I learned how law could really help people and change situations.”

She attended law school at night while working full time for the D.C. law firm. She also put in time with the U.S. Justice Department, working as a law clerk to the solicitor general’s office, the federal government’s advocate before the U.S. Supreme Court. She served under several solicitors general, including Charles Fried and Kenneth Starr (best known as the independent counsel who probed controversies such as the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton administration), as well as Deputy Solicitor John Roberts (now the U.S. Supreme Court’s chief justice).

She and her husband, architect Joseph Jenkins, arrived in Providence in 1993. “We wanted to live in a city that offered a good work-life balance. My husband had studied at Rhode Island School of Design, and he knew we’d find that here.”

In the Ocean State, she first worked for the firm Flanders & Medeiros as a litigation associate. In 2000, she joined Duffy & Sweeney, practicing as a business litigator. Since 2012 the firm partner has been leading the firm’s litigation department, which consists of seven lawyers, a paralegal and three secretaries. They handle local and national cases in multiple areas, including intellectual property, health care and real estate.

“I … fell in love with litigation,” she said. “People are litigators or they’re not. It kind of chooses you.”

She can claim boasting rights and significant victories in both state and federal courts.

She secured a $1.2 million judgment, including attorney’s fees and punitive damages, in a trade secrets case on behalf of Astro-Med Inc., a West Warwick company that makes testing and measurement devices. A former company salesperson had found a new employer, and was approaching Astro-Med customers.

When the beneficiaries of a $500 million family trust found they could no longer work together, they turned to Nakasian for help. She led the briefing and argument that resulted in a new law in Rhode Island regarding the circumstances under which a court can deviate from the terms of a trust at the request of the beneficiaries. The new standards give courts the flexibility to respond to changes that make trust terms onerous. “We were able to end the trust early, and put an end to all the fighting,” she said.

Nakasian also represented a Rhode Island company that went up against Activision Publishing Inc., one of the nation’s largest video game publishers. Activision had hired the local company’s game developer, allegedly to bench their plans to put out a competing game. Nakasian obtained an injunction in California Superior Court, requiring an Activision subsidiary to turn over work-product that the client needed to launch the new game.

When a Rhode Island school committee voted to close an elementary school – and never listed the event on the meeting agenda – Nakasian represented those who opposed the closing. She succeeded in proving the school committee and the school superintendent had knowingly violated the state’s open-meeting law. The school committee had to pay a fine and her clients’ legal fees.

Nakasian has been recognized by a number of organizations for her professional achievements, including being named by Best Lawyers as the 2013 Lawyer of the Year for intellectual property law litigation.

She is also an active volunteer. In 2010, the chief judge of Rhode Island’s U.S. District Court appointed her to the local rules committee, which provides advice on updating and amending the court’s practice rules. She served as co-chair in 2012 and 2013. She has been active in the Rhode Island chapter of the Federal Bar Association for 18 years, and has served as president. She also serves on the board of trustees for Visiting Nurse Home Care, and for three years served on the planning committee for fundraisers for Women & Infants Hospital.

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