“The only other time I served as commissioner of anything I was the commissioner of the North-by-Northwest Rotisserie Baseball League,” Nazarian jokes. “I never in a million years would have predicted that I would end up being chairman of the public service commission.”
Nazarian ’91 served as general counsel for the commission for more than a year before Gov. Martin O’Malley called him on his cell phone and asked him to be chairman. His familiarity with the commission’s supervision and regulation of the state’s gas, electric, telephone, water, and sewage disposal providers, helped prepare him for the array of tasks awaiting him when he took his new post on Aug. 16.
In September, for example, Nazarian learned of the $4.7 billion acquisition of a local energy company, a move that requires commission approval. Nazarian also must address a potential electricity reliability problem in the state and prepare a report for the Maryland General Assembly about controversial utility deregulation decisions that preceded his tenure as chairman.
“At one level it wasn’t that big a change in that I was already sort of deeply engaged in all of the work of the commission as their lawyer that I just sort of segued into as chairman,” Nazarian says. “At the same time, it is a completely different role. I’ve gone from being the legal adviser to one of the five decision-makers and also the public face of the agency much of the time. That’s been the biggest change.” He says he’s grateful for the expertise of the agency’s 140 employees who assist him and the other four commissioners to “get to the right end.”
Nazarian was a partner at Hogan & Hartson and spent five years doing telecommunications litigation for Qwest Communications prior to joining the Public Service Commission. His role as a liaison to Hogan & Hartson’s Community Services Department helped earn him the 2007 Maryland Pro Bono Service Award after he assembled a team of associates to represent 14 African-American motorists in a series of individual racial profiling cases.
“When I was in private practice it was my job to get the best outcomes for my clients. As a partner in a law firm it was my job to define a practice niche for myself and keep myself busy,” Nazarian says. “Now I don’t have to do any of that. I get to focus completely on finding the best outcomes for people, and that to me has been sort of refreshing and liberating.
“Although it would seem that I’m in this very public, very stressful role, I think it’s actually been less stressful than worrying about how I’m going to keep myself busy next year,” he adds.
Nazarian graduated from Yale in 1988 and came directly to Duke Law School where he quickly learned a “totally different way of thinking.” He credits Professor Sara Sun Beale’s Criminal Law course with helping him understand how to walk through a statute and apply it in a meaningful way.
“In first year, you [primarily] learned how to think and how to analyze issues and problems in a way that was totally unlike what I had ever done in college, what any other academic discipline taught you to do,” Nazarian says. “I really enjoyed my time at Duke. I made a lot of good friends. It was a wonderful three years.”
Nazarian moved to Maryland following his clerkship with Judge James B. Loken in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Paul, Minn., so that his wife, Jeanette, could attend medical school at the University of Maryland. She is now a critical care physician. The couple has two daughters, Grace, 7, and Lila, 10.