Anthony Caruso sat in a suit and tie on a long gray couch with his hands crossed and body seemingly relaxed as he took a casual sip from the white coffee mug. To his left sat a blonde beauty queen fighting to keep her crown as she choked back tears. Cameras were rolling; millions were watching. As indicated by the banner on the television screen, it was a “Today Exclusive”— a term used only for breaking news.
“What’s the status Anthony?” asked Matt Lauer, co-anchor of NBC’s “Today” show.
One by one the highly anticipated blackmail photos painting the hopeful Miss America as a culprit of promiscuity appeared on the television screen.
Nothing over the course of his 20 plus years as an attorney could have prepared him for this moment, but the opportunity to defend one high-profile client in the summer of 2007 marked the beginning of Caruso’s legal career in the spotlight.
Whether he’s commenting on national television on a recent celebrity scandal or negotiating deals and contracts for college seniors as an NFL agent, Caruso’s road to success as one of New Jersey’s most prominent sports attorneys and entertainment lawyers was possible because he was willing to take chances.
“When you’re in law school they teach you not to take risks,” Caruso said in reference to his education at Seton Hall University. “I’ve learned from a certain few people early on in my career to maybe venture out and take a risk, and that allowed me to be the full service attorney I am now in sports and entertainment.”
Caruso took one of his most sizable risks when he anxiously accepted the opportunity to defend then Miss New Jersey, Amy Polumbo, who was in the middle of a blackmail photo scandal making national headlines.
Although Caruso had years of expertise as sports attorney and entertainment lawyer, he had a new obstacle to overcome in his first high profile case—the media and public opinion.
“I remember I was so stressed out over a two week period with that case because that story appeared in every major newspaper throughout the world—New Zealand, England, China,” Caruso said. “But it was a great case. It was exciting. I got involved with a lot of new contacts that helped me down the road with future clients.”
Caruso never expected a career in the spotlight. Jokingly calling himself a frustrated athlete, as a child Caruso aspired to be the shining quarterback on the field, but with a lanky 6-foot frame and niche for academics Caruso was able to pursue both of his passions, supplementing his role as an attorney with that of an NFL agent.
In 2000 Caruso made his first of many risks when he gave up his practice of law and relinquished his sport’s agent’s license to start a dot-com company that sold homes on the web for a discounted commission. After two years helping to grow the company into a success, Caruso was ready to move on but still credits the internet-venture as one of the many forces to have shaped his career.
“Along the way I have taken every opportunity and taken chances with my career to broaden my skills,” Caruso said. “Most lawyers—they join a law firm and they stay with the same firm for 20 years, but I bounced around, did different things.
Like the time he and a group of investors bought a NJ minor league pro basketball team or when he worked as a counsel for the New Jersey governor, Caruso constantly finds ways to apply his law background to a diverse portfolio of projects.
Just this past September became recertified as an NFL agent. His second time-around as an NFL agent takes on new meaning now that he’s the father of a football player at Boston College.
“It was a natural fit that I would be able to help my son’s friends (in football),” Caruso said. “I am going to make it a point to focus on only a few schools, and try to get the best student athletes versus only the best players…If you don’t have a responsible athlete being represented by you, you’re going to have a lot of more work to do.”
Caruso’s son, Anthony John (AJ), a junior at Boston College, admires his father’s unique approach to cultivating the student athlete whose performance in the classroom mimics his performance on the field. Although he may not want to pursue a career in the NFL, AJ knows his teammates are in good hands.
“He’s incredibly ambitious and always moving forward in a new direction,” AJ said. “I admire how he carries himself as a professional on and off the field—witty, passionate, and always a step ahead of the next guy.”
When Caruso is not handling the legal matters of New Jersey college football players, he spends his days either in Ocean, N.J. at the offices of Scarinci Hollenbeck law firm, where he is partner and chair of Sports, Media, and Communications. He also appears regularly in the media as a legal commentator on current issues in sports and entertainment.
From a recent segment on PIX11 to discuss Justin Bieber’s DUI to his take on Mark Cuban’s comments about the future of the NFL on Fox Business Network’s Varney & Co, Caruso is able to share his legal background in front of the camera. But like a normal father, he can’t dodge the jokes when his children see dad on national television.
“My friends and family always make fun of me when I’m on,” Caruso joked. “I think it’s important to do though. A lot of the networks feel like they need somebody to explain all of these recent issues in the media.”
Caruso’s media presence extends to social media, which he uses as a constant platform to voice his opinions. Caruso maintains his own blog appropriately titled sportsentertainmentattorney.com, where he posts his thoughts about sports and entertainment-related issues in the headlines.
Ironically, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress that are aiding Caruso’s professional image are also creating more work for him, especially with the regard to his client’s privacy.
“It’s a very difficult time now for people to maintain their privacy, and a lot of my clients get into trouble because they think they’re alone and they’re not,” Caruso said.
Twists and turns like these are exactly what keeps Caruso so invested in his law career and awarded him the opportunity of a lifetime that summer of 2007. Despite the media scrutiny and the damaging photos, Caruso was able to win the case and secure Miss New Jersey’s rightful crown.
Seven years later, Caruso sips from a different white coffee mug and truly relaxes in the tranquil atmosphere of a campus coffee shop.
Unlike many NYU professors, who show up to lecture dressed almost as casually as the students they teach, Caruso’s formal suit-and-tie attire reflects his inner law psyche.
Although he spends his mornings and the rest of his week in a serious law setting, Caruso considers teaching just one of the many twists and turns shaping his career and his perspective.
Holding a leather briefcase filled with graded midterms, Caruso, acting exhausted, admits he regrets giving his Business Development II class a two-hour, all essay exam.
“Now I know why most professors just give multiple choice tests,” Caruso laughed. “It took me forever to grade these things.”
From early on Caruso learned to take his fundamental legal background and expand it towards his interests and hobbies. While he says it was never an easy ride, Caruso credits that ride for shaping him into the esteemed legal figure he is now.
“The important thing is that you learn along the way, and if you fail just try it again a different way and learn from it,” Caruso said. “Then once you succeed after failing it makes it that much more a reward.”