Duquesne University School of Law

Meet Mike Cetra, L’04

Graduation Year: 
2004

From Duquesne LawyerFall/Winter 2015

Michael Cetra, L'04

Michael Cetra, L’04, spent three years in the litigation department of Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney’s Pittsburgh office before accepting a position as associate counsel for the Port Authority of Allegheny County in 2007. He progressed quickly, being promoted to acting director of the legal department and named the Open Records Officer in 2008 before becoming the full-time General Counsel and Assistant General Manager of Legal and Corporate Services in 2009.

The Port Authority is the provider of public transportation for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Created in 1959 when the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the consolidation of the Pittsburgh Railways Company with thirty-two independent bus and inclined plane companies, Port Authority was the first—and thus far only—unified transit system in Allegheny County. The sprawling business requires 2,600 employees in order operate and maintain bus, light rail, incline and paratransit services for about 200,000 passengers per day. In addition to more than 700 buses and more than eighty light rail vehicles, Port Authority owns two inclines: the Monongahela Incline and the Duquesne Incline. And in keeping with the need to show an awareness of environmental issues, the Authority also operates thirty-two hybrid diesel-electric buses.

The board governing Port Authority are unpaid volunteers and government appointees, and the budget is funded by a mix of state, federal and local funding, along with revenues generated from and advertising. Because of its being a publically supported service, the Authority's finances are closely linked with the general economy. This is understandably the source of much stress, a good deal of which falls on the in-house counsel.

“I think the biggest issue for me, both as general counsel and as a senior manager at Port Authority, was the funding uncertainty that Port Authority faced over the past several years,” Cetra says. “It led to some very tough decisions for Port Authority that adversely impacted both Authority employees and the patrons we serve, including lay-offs, route reductions and fare increases. With the passage of the transportation bill, Act 89 of 2013, by the Pennsylvania Legislature, Port Authority has been able to stabilize its services and financial condition and begin to focus on improving the customer experience.” 

The challenges of the job are predictably numerous, and a business that provides a public service twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, can be especially demanding. According to Cetra, “With in-house counsel, the office door is never closed, and the phone can ring at any time, any day.” The responsibilities require the ability to quickly recognize issues, intuitively prioritize, and formulate the strongest legal opinion for a given situation. Fortunately, Cetra feels that he entered the position well prepared.

“My time at Duquesne was a true life changer. The Clinical Legal Education programs were particularly helpful in preparing me for ‘real world’ legal work.” Cetra’s solid academic foundation has many notable supports, including the present dean of the Law School. “(Then professor) Gormley was instrumental in sharpening my ability to spot the vital issues; he seems to have a mystical ability in that regard. He was a great resource to me throughout law school and greatly improved my writing and analytical abilities.”

Cetra’s law career has rapidly met with intriguing twists and turns, and his vision for the future is pragmatic and goal-oriented. “I don’t anticipate a time when I would completely step away from the legal profession, but my time at the Port Authority has inspired me to envision career goals beyond the legal aspects. Being involved with the leadership of a public transit agency at an executive director level is very appealing.”

The views expressed by Cetra in this interview are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Port Authority of Allegheny County.