Friday, September 28, 2007

UM Law School to the Rescue?

Anyone who practices or travels to court downtown can see that it is a pit, and it is getting worse. The infrastructure is a disaster, and the City's approach to gaping potholes, nonfunctioning traffic lights, and abandoned, shuttered buildings filled with the homeless is.... to paint the guardrails at the MetroStation!

It's a complete joke. There are hardly any good restaurants anymore, walking around town is an embarrassment, and even though you can get some great coffee from a good-looking chica near the circuit court, it hardly justifies all the hardship.

So I read with interest that the University of Miami may move its Law School to downtown Miami:

Although a decision has not been made, and will not be made without extensive planning and information gathering, the school's dean said some possible move sites in downtown Miami have been identified and he expects more information in October.

To alleviate the school's space constraints, the university looked into expansion in its current location, but faced objections from the city of Coral Gables.

Dean Dennis O. Lynch said that a move would not likely affect any current students, nor would it likely change the enrollment of the school. He added that the decision would be made by the board of trustees, and law school and university administrators.

"There's so many variables involved," Lynch said. "As we get more information we are going to keep the faculty and students informed."

The dean, who plans to leave his position at the end of the academic year and return to teaching, said building a "brand new, state-of-the-art building that was a strong architectural statement" could be valuable to the school. Cost estimates on new construction would be dependent on the site chosen.

Although relocating would allow for more classroom space, a larger library and possibly living space, some students have expressed serious concerns about the prospect of moving. Most indicated that no one they knew supported the proposition.
Anyone else see that heartfelt letter of resignation from Dean Lynch? You did great boss, we wish you well and welcome you back to the world of teaching.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rain Affecting Judicial Fundraisers?

Too bad the rain is clearing a day late -- the terrible weather depressed turnout for yesterday's judicial fundraisers, sources report. Manny Crespo hosted one fundraiser that was financially successful, despite attendance . And Michael Hanzman's swanky home was the setting for another one, also with lower-than-expected turnout due to weather. What's the problem -- do these lawyers melt?

Reports were that the checks flowed as freely as the rain, however.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Alvin Lodish Takes One on the Chin

The bearded one can handle it, but it has to sting that you and your powerful client Lennar got bested by a crack team of insurance defense lawyers over at Josephs Jack. Here is the 3d DCA opinion, if anyone is interested. Anyone else think Judge Green's dissent may have a point?

Congrats to appellate attorney Susan S. Lerner, who puts another feather in her already festooned cap. We've always liked her; isn't it about time they make her a judge?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Judges Judge Everywhere and Nary a Drop to Drink

Wow, is it just me or are you being buffeted with invitations to judicial fundraisers? I have three scheduled just for tomorrow. I can't go to all, but my checks can. Anyone else feel that this is getting to be a bit much?

Bundlers -- and you know who you are --take it easy, some of us have to earn a little money in between all these events.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Flawed Billable Hours Survey

DBR's front-page story on billing rates in South Florida is interesting, though flawed. It's always fun to gossip about how much an attorney charges per hour, but John Pacenti's piece gets a number of things wrong.

First, the article mistakenly focuses on Willie Gary's $1000 an hour recovery in a sanctions motion against Motorola. Gary is a plaintiff's lawyer, and that rate was an unusual situation occasioned by a fraud on the court.

Second, the DBR's story is weighted too heavily on bankruptcy filings, so most of the top-end litigators who might otherwise appear on this list are missing. Where are the Morgan Lewis attorneys, Marty Steinberg and others from Hunton, where is Squire Sanders etc. etc.

While Harley Tropin deserves every penny of his $600 hourly fee, I suspect this number was pulled from a bankruptcy filing and there are others in town who are legitimately billing paying clients even more.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Fernandez Pinero wins the honor of being listed as the lowest billing partner in South Florida, at $225 hour.

Don't worry, Elizabeth, we think value billing is the way to go anyway. Leave it to the Hogan & Hartsons of the world to bill at sky-high rates -- they have a lot of overhead to pay for.....

Friday, September 21, 2007

The House That Exxon Built (With an Assist from Judge Gold)

Litigator Gene Stearns, fresh from his decade-old battle with Exxon, has just plunked down $8 million to buy a 7800 square-feet home on Key Biscayne.

Nice home and all, but Gene has to keep trying -- he's got another three thousand or so square feet before he catches up with Mike Tein's palatial Pinecrest digs.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Mirror, Cracked

"There's always a certain amount of noise and confusion around me," says Joe Klock in a front page DBR story today about his new firm, Epstein Becker, subleasing the old SHD 43rd floor (including the lavish moot courtroom) from Squire Sanders. The story recounts how Klock negotiated for the space from his former partners now at Squire Sanders, and how Epstein Becker is aggressively seeking to add attorneys to the Miami office, including "two partners-to-be-named-later and a handful of associates to its 14 Miami-based attorneys."

So, let's see. The 14 lawyers have 10,000 square feet on the 21st floor. Klock, by subleasing the 43rd floor, has now more than doubled the firm's footprint in the pricey old Southeast Bank building. Yet they are planning to add only two partners and a handful of associates?

Can the very stable, modest and sedate employment lawyer Mike Casey rein in Klock's profligate tendencies? Or are we seeing a return to the freewheeling, free-spending ways that have always characterized Klock's management style?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dean Colson Continues To Rock Our World

Dean Colson, everyone's favorite highly-connected legal powerhouse, has just been tapped by Governor Crist to advise the Governor on higher education issues:

"Dean is an example of a Florida citizen who puts party aside and works for all the citizens in our state," said Ocala Republican Carolyn Roberts, chairwoman of the board that oversees the 11 state universities. "He has a history of being reasonable and understanding the value of higher education in our state."

"It is my hope he will build bridges between the Governor's Office, the Legislature, Board of Governors and Chancellor Mark Rosenberg," said House Minority leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach.

Colson, 55, is a Democrat and longtime civic leader with a sterling political pedigree. A Princeton and University of Miami law school graduate who clerked for former Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, he leads a Miami law firm that specializes in personal injury and commercial cases.

He was a close ally of former Gov. Jeb Bush. His law partner, Roberto Martinez, was chief of the transition office for Bush and Crist. Colson ran Super Bowl host committees, the Orange Bowl Committee, and chaired the state Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. He was a member of the Commission on Ethics.

He served on the Florida Board of Governors and chaired the University of Miami board of trustees.

Congratulations and thanks to Dean for all his public service.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Paul Geller Breathes Sigh of Relief

Word is that Bill Lerach is set to plead guilty today:

As part of a so-called binding plea, Lerach will pay a fine of $8 million and didn't promise to cooperate with prosecutors, one of the people said. A judge must approve such a plea agreement without any changes or Lerach may withdraw it, the person said.

Lerach's representation of Enron investors isn't a subject of the Milberg Weiss probe, according to the 2006 indictment of the firm.

Lerach left Milberg in 2004 to form Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins in San Diego. His new firm won't be charged, according to Lerach's plea agreement, one of the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

I bet Paul is happy about that last bit.

DBR - A Day Late

I see the DBR finally got around to covering the Martinez-Fraga move to Squire Sanders. Better late than never.....

Monday, September 17, 2007

Martinez-Fraga and Ryan Reetz Jump Ship to Squire Sanders

More defections at Greenberg Traurig, as prominent international litigators Pedro Martinez-Fraga and C. Ryan Reetz depart for Squire Sanders.

This is a big loss for Greenberg, which is reeling from the hangover of its exponential expansion and also from dealing with numerous legal, regulatory and conflicts issues (disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff didn't help much, either).

Can you imagine trying to do a conflicts check at that place nowadays?

Other prominent recent defections include longtime corporate partner Dan Aronson to Bilzen Sumberg, and international real estate partner Joe Hernandez to Hogan Hartson.

Anyway, congratulations to Pedro and Ryan, who are great litigators and make a powerhouse team wherever they decide to hang their hat.

Friday, September 14, 2007

How Clueless is City Attorney Jorge Fernandez?

Although the Bar gave him a pass for his incompetent handling of the Hank Adorno fire fee scandal, what do you make of this legal giveaway:

Item RE.12 06-01877 on the last Miami City Commission meeting agenda, a resolution brought forth by City Attorney Jorge Fernandez, authorizes the director of finance to pay 750,000 taxpayer dollars to settle a lawsuit brought against the city and Joe Arriola by Wisconsin-based Hammes Sports Development, Inc. and Hammes Sports Development of Florida, LLC for breach of contract. In short, Fernandez wants to, as he said during the meeting, “buy the case off.”

Hammes Sports Development, Inc. and Hammes Sports Development of Florida, LLC sued the city of Miami for “compensatory damages in excess of $2 million” for breaking a project management agreement, or PMA, signed last year by the city when Arriola was still city manager, which put Hammes of Florida, LLC in charge of the $150 million Orange Bowl renovation. The city’s reason for breaking the deal: It wanted to hire Hammes, Inc., not its subsidiary, Hammes Sports Development of Florida LLC, and says officials were tricked into a contract with a company that would be less liable for mistakes and mismanagement. Hammes responds that this argument is “belied by the fact that numerous drafts and communications exchanged between the parties included the name of Hammes, LLC.” Hammes also notes in its lawsuit that “the City presumably read the PMA carefully before the City Manager, the City Attorney, and the City’s Risk Management Administrator signed the PMA, so the City must have known the identity of the Hammes entity with whom it had contracted.”

At the Nov. 9 meeting, Commissioner Tomas Regalado was the strongest voice opposing the resolution to settle the Hammes case. “The truth needs to be told; the city needs to know what went on with that contract. [If you settle this case] you won’t be buying closure, you’ll be buying silence,” he said.

When Commissioner Linda Haskins first brought the motion to approve the settlement forward, it died. None of Haskins’ colleagues on the dais seconded her motion.

This was the emotional tipping point for City Attorney Fernandez, who loudly protested that the settlement is a “bitter pill this commission has to swallow.” Fernandez also added that if he were forced to take the case to court, his job as city attorney “is to defend the players involved at all costs. Don’t look to me to do anything but defend them!”

Fernandez also claimed that the city could lose up to $13 million if it went to court against Hammes. This number was refuted by both Commissioner Regalado and Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.

“That is not a correct figure,” said Regalado.

“The figure you gave is not what I [just] heard,” said Spence-Jones.

In fact, the actual lawsuit against the city reads “in excess of $2 million.”

Eventually, Spence-Jones made a motion to reconsider, and the commission soon passed the resolution. The majority’s opinion was that paying Hammes off would protect the taxpayers, as paying $750,000 was better than paying millions.

“If this case goes to court, there will be public disclosures,” Regalado said to the SunPost, “so they put a gun to the commission’s head and said ‘if you don’t settle, we’ll have to pay $13 million.’”

So the City did not know which Hammes entity it was entering into a contract with? And decided to simply break the contract? Are the Three Stooges reviewing contracts and legal documents over there?

And $13 million -- what a joke. Is it just me or maybe Hammes might have some difficulty proving up these speculative numbers?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

They Write Letters

Dapper former Miami US Attorney Marcos Jimenez, now an attorney at Kenny Nachwalter, has a letter today in the Miami Herald:

It was disappointing to read the Sept. 11 editorial The real damage caused by 9/11, which compared the murder of almost 3,000 innocent individuals on 9/11 to the ''most lasting damage'' our government has inflicted on the U.S. Constitution and its freedoms. Certainly there is room for respectful debate about our government's response to 9/11. But if you have spoken to families who lost loved ones in the attacks, you might not make that comparison.

Many dedicated and brave people in our government and military have sacrificed greatly to protect us since 9/11. Theirs is the response that matters. Since 9/11, through their efforts, we as a nation have made strides that should be recognized: We have so far prevented further attacks; we have arrested and convicted terrorists in our country; we have killed or captured important leaders of al Qaeda; we have improved our security at airports, seaports and crucial infrastructure points; and we have served notice to the world that any attacks will be met with grave force. Those are responses that matter.

Marcos, don't take this the wrong way, but The Herald's editorials are the equivalent of newspaper pablum. Getting mad at a Herald editorial is like getting angry with cream of wheat.

Methinks Marcos is more than happy to give up some constitutional liberties so Daddy Bush can make sure we all sleep safe.

Meanwhile, 40 percent of Republicans and a third of all Americans believe Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for 9/11.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Michael Budwick: "You Can Keep The Dog"

Michael Budwick plays Santa Claus in today's DBR front page article regarding failed developer Jaun Puig. Acting as receiver in the bankruptcy settlement filed yesterday, Budwick is taking the Puigs' four homes and three mansions, a 135-piece collection of art and sculptures, an extensive wine collection, a host of collectors' cars including a vintage Ferarri, two Porsches and a 1969 DeTomaso Mangusta, and a 59-foot boat.

But he is letting the couple keep their dog. What, no market for the pooch on Ebay?

The Puigs are represented by Jerry Markowitz.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hank Adorno's Date With Destiny

Good news of sorts coming out of the Miami fire fee scandal -- the Florida Bar has cleared Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and City Attorney Jorge Fernandez:

The Florida Bar called off its investigation of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's involvement in the last year's fire-fee scandal, saying there is no probable cause to continue.

The professional body, which regulates and disciplines lawyers, also called off its investigation of City Attorney Jorge Fernandez.

The Bar's Grievance Committee opened investigations in the spring of 2006, based on media reports that the city of Miami had quietly settled a lawsuit brought on behalf of more than 80,000 taxpayers over a fee imposed to cover fire services.

Instead of refunding everyone -- at a cost estimated at tens of millions of dollars -- the city agreed in a secret settlement to pay seven activists and their attorney $7 million.

The secret did not last long, though, and the biggest scandal of Diaz's six years in office ensued. A judge later threw out the settlement.

Diaz, a seasoned real-estate lawyer, said in a subsequent deposition that he didn't ask many questions about the case or the looming settlement. He said he left the matter in the hands of former City Manager Joe Arriola.

Diaz's chief of staff, Suzanna Valdez, did not return a phone call Thursday evening.

Arriola said he had no idea the money was going to just a few people. In his deposition, he said he was duped by ''a lot of double talk'' from lawyer Hank Adorno, who represented the group that became known as the ``lucky seven.''

Under the original deal's terms, Adorno's firm was to get $2 million in fees.

Fernandez has said he had ''little understanding'' of the settlement's details. He became city attorney after the deal was arranged but recommended its approval by commissioners. Fernandez also could not be reached for a comment Thursday evening.

This summer, the City Commission agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle the case -- this time to be divided among everyone who paid the disputed fire fee. That deal awaits court approval; a hearing is set for Sept. 21.

Attorney Richard Williams, who represents taxpayers in the case, said he intends to pursue a malpractice claim against Adorno's firm.

Adorno, former city attorney Alejandro Vilarello and former assistant city attorney Charles Mays are also under investigation by the Bar.

With the scathing 3d DCA opinion, particularly the concurrence, it is unlikely Adorno will get off as easily, not to mention the malpractice claim. I would also add that the concurrence probably gives Adorno's malpractice carrier a pretty solid fraud defense, meaning both the defense of the malpractice claim -- and any judgment or settlement -- will be coming out of Adorno's pocket.

Query also whether other similar deals that Adorno masterminded with the City or county will be examined for the type of shenanigans we saw unfold publicly in this fire fee debacle.

Boy things can change fast.

Remember the heady days when Adorno's "aggressive growth strategy" to dominate the legal field was garnering national headlines?

Like sands in the hourglass......

Monday, September 10, 2007

Judge Perez to Join Tew Cardenas

The likable and able Judge Jorge Perez has announced that he is leaving the bench and joining Tom Tew's firm:

A financial decision, says Perez, appointed in '03 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Perez, 44, has a son in college and a 6-year-old boy in private school, and cares for his 72-year-old mother, a retired physician. Wife Maria, 45, an attorney, is now a stay-at-home mom.

''As much as I love this job, I'm the sole support for my family,'' says Perez, who earns $145,080 as a jurist.

He'll receive a ''substantial increase'' in salary at his new job, says Thomas Tew, senior partner.

Other big firms pursued Perez, Tew says. ``He was given a fraternity rush by a lot of players.''

This is a loss for the bench, and his financial reasons are justifiable.

Still, didn't he have all of those same financial pressures in 2003 when he sought and obtained Governor Bush's appointment?

Tew's firm, still reeling from the loss of Mark Raymond to Broad & Cassel, could use Perez to fill in some of the gaps. Let's hope Tom stays healthy -- has he been grooming any successors?

Friday, September 7, 2007

Post-Labor Day Blues

Yes, it's back to work, all you South Florida litigators. As judges and lawyers return bleary-eyed from their vacation homes in Colorado, North Carolina, or Maine, judges start scheduling hearings again and federal judges start entering orders again.

No more trips to Harley Tropin's pad in Telluride, nor more jaunts to Lance Harke's Maine compound, no short hops to Magistrate Judge Dube's North Carolina retreat.

Summer is truly over.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Ken Jenne Sentenced -- What about Conrad Scherer?

Can someone explain how Conrad Scherer escaped indictment?

Here you have a prominent South Florida law firm paying for the Sheriff's Mercedes and insurance for years, and over that time billing $200k for 17 active BSO matters:

The tally included $107,995 in car payments and insurance costs that his former law firm, Conrad, Scherer & Jenne, paid from 1998 until recently. Shortly before he became sheriff in January 1998, Jenne asked his law firm to buy him a used 1994 Mercedes convertible. The firm paid for the car and its insurance during Jenne's tenure as sheriff, income he never reported. The firm also did legal work for the Sheriff's Office.
As the Miami Herald points out:

Jenne worked at Conrad, Scherer & Jenne from 1992 until he became sheriff in 1998. Like other partners, Jenne drove a car paid for by the firm's investment arm, CSJ Investments.

The car -- a 1994 Mercedes-Benz E320 that cost $61,300 -- was bought with a 60-month loan in 1997.

By the time Jenne left the firm a few months later, only one payment had been made on the luxury convertible. The firm continued to pay off the car -- about $79,000 in loan payments and $30,000 in insurance -- after Jenne had become Broward's top law enforcer.

Jenne did not report those payments on his federal income taxes, prosecutors said.

The firm's managing partner, William Scherer Jr., tried to transfer the car's title into Jenne's name in 2003 when the payments were complete, according to the documents released Wednesday.

The title transfer never happened, and in 2005 Jenne rejected a firm adminstrator's request that he take care of it.

''Jenne told [the administrator] that it would look bad in the press if the title were transferred to Jenne and asked if it could be transferred at some point in the future,'' the documents show.

Scherer agreed, and the car remained in the firm's name and the firm continued to pay for car's insurance.

Here's the great John DeGroot on the fall of Jenne:

All of which is how and why I believe Ken Jenne fell from grace.

First, by bullshitting himself and the public by distorting BSO’s crime stats to make BSO appear miraculously better than any other major law enforcement agency in the nation. (Which is how and why Jenne and I parted company, never to speak to each other again after I called Broward’s most powerful politician and my long-time friend a shameless liar.)

But an ocean of blood has flowed under the bridge since then.

Did I begin to suspect the man of even more egregious sins than his self-aggrandizing, statistical bullshit that, caused our falling out?.


Little by slowly, I began connecting certain dots which I’d chosen to ignore in the past – which eventually led me to share both my doubts and certain data with the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Justice Department.

But again, that’s all blood under the bridge.

While Ken Jenne appears stripped of power and headed for jail.

Leaving me filled with sorrow over all that might have been.

Because the sad thing of it is (and was), the Good Ken Jenne did far outweighed the Bad. Period. And no one will ever convince me otherwise.

May he one day find the peace and comfort that have eluded the man for all 60 years of his remarkable life.
John, your next assignment is to find out how Conrad Scherer managed to wiggle out of their own complicity.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Quick Note to New Readers

Hi all:

I started this blog not because I hope to compete with the estimable David Marcus, or even the rascally Rumpole and company.

But as good as those blogs are, I felt there was a void in terms of South Florida civil litigators, which is the primary focus of this blog.

Tips and snark welcome.

Adam T. Rabin To Fly Fly Fly?

Word is that Adam T. Rabin, former Koyzak Tropin attorney, is set to depart the firm formed by former Hanzman Criden attorneys Dimond Kaplan and Rothstein.

Unclear what that's all about, but we hear he's forming a new firm with former SHD powerhouse Ryon McCabe.

Good luck to all -- all of these attorneys are top notch.

Ira Elegant Lands Shaq Divorce

Joan Fleischman breaks the news that Shaq is getting divorced.

The best news? Uber-mensch Ira Elegant is representing the Big Man.

Wonder whether it is Ira's pricey Sunset Island digs that got him the representation, or just his ruggish good looks. Either way Number 23 is in very good hands.