In 2011, Gary Salamido joined the North Carolina Chamber, a nonpartisan business advocacy organization, as vice president of governmental affairs. Salamido heads the chamber’s lobbying efforts at the North Carolina General Assembly, representing the interests of 35,000 businesses that employ 1.26 million workers across the state.  

Before joining the Chamber, Salamido spent 19 years with GlaxoSmithKline, the final decade as GSK’s director of state government affairs. He has a bachelor of science in pharmacy from Albany College of Pharmacy in New York and a masters in pharmacy administration from the University of Texas in Austin.

The NC Chamber is forming a litigation division, in part due to legislative controversies, power shifts in Raleigh, and the election of Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein.

Salamido spoke with Carolina Journal Associate Editor Kari Travis in late June at his office. In the first of a two-part interview, he talked about the formation of the chamber’s legal institute. The second portion of the interview will be published later. 

This interview was edited for clarity and space.

Q: Why open a litigation division, and what inspired that movement?

A: We’ve been the North Carolina Chamber really for only 12 years. Lew Ebert, our CEO, came back 12 years ago. We were another organization … . We look at the U.S. Chamber model, and we’re beginning to evolve into that type of organization, [more directly involved in advocating policies that benefit the business community]. It was just a natural part of our maturation to have a professional presence around the issues of the tort system and the civil liabilities system.

Now, when we do get involved with amicus briefs, when do we get involved in litigation? That was being decided by people, volunteers, but it wasn’t really formalized. So we looked at models around the country, and [today] our legal institute, which is a separate entity with a separate board, has general counsels from our member companies, and some of the best defense lawyers in the state are here.

Q: What issues will the legal institute focus on most? 

A: We’re looking at civil liability and tort reform. We’ll also be looking to improve corporate governance across the state. We want to become the best state for corporate governance in the country. Where do companies get the best favorable treatment and protections? Delaware has got the market cornered on that, and we’re gunning for it. We want to be the place that people want to incorporate … for a lot of reasons. But a lot of companies that are in North Carolina are incorporated in Delaware because of the favorable treatment they get there.

Q: Will you hire additional staff to write briefs, or outsource legal work? What will the operational functions of the division be?

A: We’re still in the development of that, to be really honest with you, because the other piece of that is litigation. Regarding amicus briefs, we have a process that our advisory group and our leadership goes through and says, “Yes, that’s a broad-based business issue,” or, “no, it’s not.” And then I’m the one who executes their advice.

The next question we have to answer is, “Do we have standing to engage in lawsuits?” So we’re doing an internal evaluation of that right now, and our experts there — who are in litigation every day — are giving us the parameters for whether we should engage in a lawsuit or not.

We’re not going to hire a general counsel. We’re not going to set up our own law firm here. We’ll use a model similar to that of our foundation. We’ll use our volunteer leaders and expertise there. We’ll [consider actions] in our policy committees. And then our staff here will execute the recommendations so that they’ll know exactly what they’re doing.

Most of the time when we get involved in an amicus brief, one of our member firms will write the brief, and they’ll do it because it’s important to one of their clients, and there’s broad-based business impact, so there’s no cost to us on that piece.

Q: You said you’re evaluating internally to decide whether the Chamber would participate in litigation. What does that process look like? What kind of questions are you asking internally?  

A: We’ve picked two law firms — Smith Anderson and McGuire Woods — two of our important members of the NC Chamber, to look right now at what makes sense. They’re going to establish some guidelines, bring it to our board, and then our board will decide what to do.

First phase is to let the litigators come up with the reasons for [entering into lawsuits], because they’re the ones who fight those types of things every day. They’re the ones who will come back to our board … . All action will be driven by our members.

Q: Let’s talk about the relationship between the governor and the General Assembly. Is it so toxic you assume almost every major policy change could wind up in court?  

A: When you have one part of government controlled by one party, and another controlled by a different party … we anticipated that. But the attorney general’s position also changed hands. There’s a difference between how [Attorney General Roy] Cooper, now Governor Cooper, handled things, versus how [Attorney General Josh] Stein is going to handle things.

We actually had a recent case, Wilkes v. The City of Greenville, on workers compensation … . The Supreme Court overturned the worker’s comp reforms of 2011, and 2015, which flipped the burden of proof from the employee to the employer regarding issues around workers comp.

Our legal institute is now formed to sign onto that in a significant way, so, when flipped, they gave us the advice, the workers comp lawyers helped us to put that in place, and we were able to successfully change legislation to put the original reforms back in place.

[There is] legal opposition to the business community. The plaintiff attorneys that practice personal injury law on the other side of those issues know that there are challenges on the other side in the legislature. They know that the legislature is not philosophically aligned with them right now. So they’re going to have to legislate through the courts. We fully anticipate that we’re going to see medical malpractice cases come up now to try and overturn the good reforms that took us from 22nd in litigation environment to seventh in the country by the U.S. Chamber Legal Institute.

There is going to be a lot of litigation in the courts. Our legal institute is in a good place to push back on that.

Q: So, you do see the General Assembly as a force that influenced the formation of the legal institute here?  

A: There’s no doubt. The reforms that we did in worker’s comp since 2011 … the only way for those to be [reversed] is in the courts. Because the General Assembly is not going to go back on the current leadership with all they’ve achieved. So yes, the next line of defense is the courts, and we didn’t have a way to defend against that.