TALLAHASSEE -- The most influential person in Gov. Rick Scott’s inner circle is unknown to most people in Florida, including Tallahassee’s political elite who make it their job to know everything.
That’s because Enu Mainigi, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and the governor’s confidante, prefers to stay in the shadows.
Mainigi, 41, is known in legal circles as a brilliant litigator who successfully defended healthcare companies, pharmaceutical giants, and others against healthcare fraud, whistleblower claims and shareholder lawsuits. As a young attorney in the powerful law firm of Williams & Connolly, she joined the team representing Scott in 1997 after he had resigned as Columbia/HCA CEO and before the company paid its record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.
She remained his lawyer, defending him in the contract dispute against Columbia/HCA in 2000, in which he pleaded the fifth 75 times, and in the 2010 whistleblower lawsuit against Solantic, the chain of urgent care clinics Scott founded and recently sold.
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But since 2008, Mainigi’s relationship with Scott has morphed into a second career: advisor-in-chief, messenger, chief talent scout and advocate.
When Scott formed a political committee in 2008 to oppose the Democrat’s healthcare reform plan, Mainigi helped build his team by introducing him to pollster and political consultant Tony Fabrizio and policy advisor Mary Anne Carter. She knew both from working on Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign.
When Scott, a multimillionaire former healthcare executive, decided to self-finance his gubernatorial campaign, Mainigi successfully led the legal fight to challenge Florida’s public campaign finance law. When Scott needed a trusted friend and Tallahassee outsider to run his transition team, Mainigi stepped in and took the unpaid job, which lasted five months.
She has been instrumental in shuffling Scott’s top staff. She helped lure long-time Tallahassee insider, lawyer, political consultant and chief of staff to the Senate president, Steve MacNamara, to replace policy director Mary Anne Carter and chief of staff Col. Mike Prendergast.
Through it all, Mainigi says her role for Scott is “just being his friend and sounding board.”
Born in India and brought to the United States at age 5, Mainigi’s intellect and independence surfaced early, said her mother, Kusum Mainigi. “In second grade she said she was interested in becoming a lawyer,’’ her mother recalled. “We were amazed.”
Mainigi’s parents, scientists by training, emigrated from India in 1975, after her father received his green card. They spent much of her early years following research grants and moving from Philadelphia, to Ithaca, Albany, Omaha and Washington, D.C. before finally settling in Maryland.
During that time, Mainigi skipped a grade, graduated college with honors, worked as a lifeguard in school, and entered Harvard law school on a partial scholarship. In her second year, she got her first taste of politics, running for president of the Law School Council. The Harvard Crimson described it as “dirty, ugly and bitter,” spawned by a dispute between the candidates over whether they had agreed to debate. Mainigi won.
She got the job at Williams & Connolly after working on the Dole campaign and made partner within five years.
Mainigi is a devoted Republican, but acknowledges she is more socially moderate than Scott. She’s married to John Walke, a Democrat and director of the clean air program for the National Resources Defense Council. The couple, who met in law school, avoid talking politics.
Mainigi counts among her close friends several former adversaries, such as Marc Raspanti, a partner at the Philadelphia-based law firm who worked against Mainigi between 2004 and 2006 in a healthcare case involving pair of whistleblower lawsuits against MedCo Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefits manager.
He remembers Mainigi joining the case after returning from maternity leave and expected a “nice, kindly mom” but instead faced a hard-charging litigator who “was the engine of the defense.”
“Enu is a tough woman in a man’s world’’ but that comes at a cost, he said. “She gets shots taken at her because she acts the way a man would — but she can take as well as she can give.”