CityLaw Profile: Elizabeth Fine, General Counsel, Empire State Development Corporation

Elizabeth Fine became General Counsel and Executive Vice-President of the Empire State Development Corporation in 2014 after a long career of government service. Fine grew up in New Haven, Washington D.C., and Lima, Peru. Her family eventually settled in the Boston area, where Fine graduated Brookline High School. Jonathan Fine, Elizabeth’s father, had worked in Lima for the Agency for International Development while her mother, Edith W. Fine, was an administrator for the Peace Corp. Afterwards Fine’s mother worked as an attorney for Boston’s Corporation Counsel and later became a judge of the Boston Municipal Court, then rising to the Massachusetts Superior Court and the Massachusetts Court of Appeals. Fine’s father eventually became the Boston’s Deputy Commissioner of Health and founded the non-profit “Physicians for Human Rights.”

Fine studied international economic development at Brown University and after graduation entered New York University Law School, where her studies focused on immigration law with particular emphasis on the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. After law school, Fine attended Georgetown Law School where she received an LL.M. in advocacy and won a two-year post-graduate fellowship. During the fellowship, Fine helped implement clinical programs aiding Washington area immigrants. The work took Fine to the Mexican border where she represented immigrants before federal agencies.

In 1989 Fine accepted a staff position with the House Judiciary Committee. As counsel to the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and Administration of Justice, under Congressman Robert Kastenmeier of Wisconsin, Fine’s work focused on prisons, patents, copyrights, and oversight of federal courts and the Justice Department.

Fine observed that when committee hearings concerned patent and intellectual property, the hearing rooms were packed with lobbyists and large financial interests. Fine said it “was the committee’s duty to strike a balance that encourages innovation by allowing exclusivity of a patent, but

not tip the scales in a way that discourages competition.” When the committee hearings involved prisons, there was a smaller crowd and fewer lobbyists present, but the issues were just as difficult: prison over-crowding, poor inmate conditions, and prison management.

Fine remembers Congressman Kastenmeier with fondness. Fine said she was fortunate to “work for a congressman who believed in people’s goodness and rehabilitation and was not openly punitive.”

In 1992, Fine moved to the Clinton Campaign. Her first assignment was working with the Vice-Presidential Selection committee. For the remainder of the campaign Fine worked as attorney and aid to the campaign. After President Clinton’s victory, Fine worked on the presidential transition team and at the White House Counsel’s Office.

Following the birth of her first child, Fine moved to the Justice Department where she worked from 1994 through 2001 at various positions, including counsel for the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. Her work focused on immigration, criminal justice and violence against women.

Fine in 2002 moved to New York City and from 2002 to 2006 worked for Spence-Chapin, the 100-year-old family services agency. In 2006 Fine moved to the City Council as general counsel under former Council Speaker Christine Quinn. As counsel, Fine worked to protect the power of the Council and especially enjoyed working on land use, legislative and criminal justice issues. Fine found the work rewarding because of its immediate impact on people. Fine said that “when you pass a local law on plastic bags or e-trash it impacts people so immediately,” adding, “there is a lot you can do, and you can really affect the quality of life in the city.”

In 2014, Fine accepted an offer from Governor Andrew Cuomo to be General Counsel for the Empire State Development Corporation. The position at Empire State offered an opportunity to make a wide impact on the State. Fine said that what makes the Empire State Development Corporation so great is its “nimbleness, which is why the government keeps calling on us to get things done.” The Penn

Empire Station project is the next major project the Empire State Development Corporation plans to tackle.

Fine loves exploring each of the City and State’s neighborhoods and beaches, trying new restaurants and runs through the park. She added, since “since my days in college working on economic development, it appears my career has come full circle.

By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019.)




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