Monday, January 28, 2008

Pickin' A Jury

I'm picking a jury tomorrow in a reasonably small civil matter. Should be interesting. Chance of settlement nearing 40%. If it settles I will let you know, otherwise won't be back before maybe Thursday or Friday.

Be good people! Feel free to thread away......

Jeff Herman Likes Red Meat!!

Successful pedophile prosecutor and public carnivore Jeffrey Herman explains:

Herman has a weakness on business trips: red meat. He's got a favorite steakhouse in every city (including Miami, where he heads up to The Palm in Bal Harbour). His order: New York strip, medium rare, side salad. ``That's my away treat. And a good bottle of red wine.''
I have no way to know this, but is it possible he also likes the Giants, Vegas, single-malt scotch, thinks he's good at poker, and enjoys a fine cigar?

(getting sleepy........)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bye Bye Jay Wingate. Hello Peter Sotolongo?

Sorry for the lack of posts, folks, I had some lawyering to do. Ok, actually I went skiing in Colorado for a couple days. By the way, the powder was very nice.

Anyway, news here that Jay Wingate has agreed to drop out of the law business in the wake of allegations involving inside Royal Caribbean settlement info:

Embattled lawyer Jay Wingate agreed Thursday to drop out of 77 shipboard injury cases after Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines claimed his firm paid a cruise employee for inside information. Wingate said he is closing his practice, but the future of the cases is uncertain.

The Miami-based cruise company filed a motion two weeks ago to disqualify Wingate's law firm from pursuing the lawsuits against it. An attached affidavit from a fired Royal Caribbean employee said she accepted cash from two Wingate investigators in exchange for information about lawsuit settlement authorization, including the amount of money the cruise operator was willing to pay to settle cases.

At a hearing Thursday before Senior Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Herb Stettin, Wingate's attorney Miles A. McGrane III of McGrane Nosich & Ganz in Coral Gables announced Wingate would withdraw as counsel from the pending cases.

Royal Caribbean attorney Curtis Mase, a partner with Mase & Lara in Miami, requested a brief recess and returned to relay his client's elation."They are quite surprised and amenable," he said.

The fired employee's name was blacked out in the court filing, but the Daily Business Review obtained an unredacted copy identifying her as Wanda Ballestas, a former supervisor for crew claims in the company's risk management department. Ballestas acknowledged accepting a series of $500 payments for Royal Caribbean's confidential settlement projections and a $2,000 Christmas bonus, according to the affidavit. She admitted passing information on 20 plaintiffs to Wingate investigators Maria Elena Parilla and Nelson Ayala.

Wingate and McGrane vigorously denied Ballestas' claims at the hearing and said dropping out of the cases was not an admission of wrongdoing.

But the convoluted legal saga did not end with Wingate's withdrawal from the cases.

Peter Sotolongo, a partner in The Wingate Firm, said in an interview that he is starting his own firm and hopes to take over many of the cases against Royal Caribbean. Although he was named in Royal Caribbean's motion to disqualify, Sotolongo came into the hearing expecting he would be in line to take over the bulk of the cases the firm was dropping. But the potential hiring of another firm to help those clients was a setback to that effort.

Royal Caribbean would oppose Sotolongo taking on the remaining cases, Mase said. "If Peter Sotolongo comes to represent any of these plaintiffs, then at that time Royal Caribbean will take the action that they deem to be appropriate," he said. "I think it's probably fair to say that Royal Caribbean would oppose someone who was an attorney in the firm, a very small firm I might add, which is alleged to have engaged in improper conduct."

Hmm. Does anyone think this is over yet?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Where for Art Thou, Ted Babbitt?

You got to love it when a judge resorts to the classics to get Palm Beach trial lawyer Ted Babbitt to pipe down:

A throng of attorneys negotiated at length over the holiday weekend, trying to reach a "global settlement" of their claims against Keller's estate. They came close, but couldn't resolve some disputes. Talks are ongoing.

Keil's lawsuit and the wrongful death lawsuit filed by his sister's estate were scheduled to be tried simultaneously this week. But Circuit Judge Edward Garrison concluded Tuesday that disagreements among lawyers made that too hard, so he ruled that Keil's case will be tried first.

Ted Babbitt, the attorney representing Michael Simon, trustee of a fund created for Fred Keller Jr., was displeased. He has a claim for damages for the 12-year-old son, called Fredchen, for the loss of his mother.

"The danger is they can wipe out the estate and we're left hanging," Babbitt told Garrison. "You shouldn't let one side have the advantage."

Garrison said whatever the judgment in the Keil case, he is not required to distribute it until other claims are resolved.

Keller's estate is worth roughly $50 million, and the competing claimants aim to deplete it.

Garrison had some spirited exchanges with Babbitt on Tuesday.

"Mr. Babbitt, your protestations are reaching Shakespearean levels," he said after one of them.

Several attorneys said that the main sticking point to settling the complex litigation was a proposal for a settlement trust for Fredchen that would have made Simon and attorney Daniel Shepherd trustees and lawyers for the trust. Other attorneys said that was a conflict of interest that would have enabled them to collect fees indefinitely at Fredchen's expense.

Shakespeare? I can think of a few other literary references that might also apply.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Another Pleasant Valley Monday

Here in status symbol land....

Opened up the paper, learned that 60s singer-songwriter John ("Daydream Believer") Stewart is dead.

Driving in to work, traffic was particularly bad. Usual collection of freaks and geeks in the parking lot. Painful elevator ride. Same homeless lady by the cuban coffee shop. Streets dank and grey. A photo of Dave Ferguson in the DBR.

God, can this day get any worse?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Jared Beck in the News

Fellow blogger and condo cancellation expert Jared Beck has a few quotes and a dashing photo in yesterday's DBR.

Dear commentators, I know I know -- Mike Schlesinger.

(I've said this before, but Mike, dude, get to work on that website!)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Taste Police, They Come to Me in My Bed

It's bad enough to file a legally unmeritorious lawsuit, but it's even worse to violate Miguel A. De Grandy's impeccable sense of good taste. That's just over the line:

Martha Flores, a popular Spanish-language radio host, will not have to respond to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Miami late last year charging she violated the rights of a former Cuban general exiled in Miami.

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro dismissed the case against Flores filed on behalf of Rafael del Pino.

The former general, 67, dramatically defected to the United States with his family in a stolen Cessna in 1987.

Del Pino, who is embroiled in a bitter feud with some exiles over his views on negotiating with Cuba, sued Flores and others for ''the harm he has suffered from a series of violent threats and intimidation'' by local television and radio personalities and Bay of Pigs veterans, all with the ''intent of chilling'' his First Amendment Rights, his suit claimed.

The judge's 13-page order said Flores expressed an opinion about Del Pino on the air but did not take any action against him.

The lawsuit claimed that during her show, La Noche y Usted, on Sept. 12, Flores declared ''openly on her show that del Pino should be executed'' on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.

A review of a recording of the show confirmed the defense's claim that a caller to the program made the statement -- not Flores -- and that the caller was reprimanded by one of Flores' studio guests.

In dismissing the case against Flores, the judge said the radio host could not be accused of depriving del Pino of any constitutional right of free expression because she is a private citizen, not acting on behalf of a government.

''The purpose of this lawsuit was to chill the freedom of expression of Martha Flores,'' said Miguel A. De Grandy, one of her attorneys. ``It's unjust and in bad taste for the plaintiff to have used First Amendment rights to prohibit the freedom of expression of others.''

You heard right General -- that suit was just plain icky.

In all seriousness, congrats Miguel on another big win!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When It Rains, It Pours

Jay Wingate manages to stay active.

If you're not busy defeating allegations that you ripped off Bill Huggett's widow, you're facing a motion like this:

Two investigators with a Miami law firm paid a Royal Caribbean Cruises employee to obtain inside information on the amount of money the company would be willing to pay to settle workplace injury claims, the employee alleges in a sworn court affidavit.

The affidavit by the Royal Caribbean supervisor is attached to motions asking Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stuart Simons to disqualify the Wingate Law Firm of Miami from 75 pending lawsuits brought on behalf of cruise line crew members and passengers by the firm. A hearing on the Miami-based cruise line’s disqualification requests is set for Thursday.

The fired employee, whose name has been redacted from the affidavit, acknowledged accepting $500 payments in exchange for Royal Caribbean’s confidential settlement projections and received a $2,000 Christmas bonus, according to her statement.

The employee, a former supervisor for crew claims in the company’s risk management department, said she passed information on about 20 plaintiffs to Wingate investigators Maria Elena Parilla and Nelson Ayala.

The law firm vigorously denies the employee’s claims.

“This is just an effort to put us out of business. There was no truth about anything said in there,” said Jay Wingate, head of the law firm. “The whole thing is stupid” and “utter gibberish.”

Any contacts between the firm and Royal Caribbean or its employees were part of normal settlement discussions, Wingate said.

The affidavit offered no total dollar value of payments accepted by the supervisor, but payments of $500 each in 20 cases plus the Christmas bonus she received would total $12,000.

Royal Caribbean did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.

“What you’re talking about is what amounts to a form of commercial bribery,” said Curtis J. Mase of Mase Gassenheimer & Lara in Miami. He represents RCL.

“The overarching purpose of the motion is to seek to disqualify an attorney who engaged in very improper conduct,” Mase said.

The dozens of identical motions filed Tuesday seek to disqualify Wingate and firm attorney Peter Sotolongo from the cases.
Hmm. This story also appeared in Joan's column in today's Miami Herald. She usually doesn't run a story if the DBR is also covering it.

Did Curtis or his client shop this or put out a press release?

We all know the dirty business of some firms hiring investigators to generate clients. But something about this doesn't sit right.

I look forward to Jay's response brief. Email me if someone has more to share on this story.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Speak of the Pompitous of Love

So I'm here in my office, grooving to Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby's funky 1969 concoction, Hikky-Burr, and it got me in a friendly, almost social, frame of mind. Holy crap, my Ipod shuffle just followed it up with The Joker, and my pleasant mood is happily extended.

In fact, those two happy, joyful tunes got me out of my jaded, scornful, blue wallowing long enough to buy two tix to the big Federal Bar Association event, heading our way February 7th, at the Hyatt.

As usual, we will be honoring that collection of pickers, grinners, lovers, sinners, making rulings in the sun -- you know, our judges, so it should be a nice event, filled with people you know or should know. Lovey-dovey lovey-dovey lovey-dovey all the time......

Wait a minute -- who put on my playlist Duran Duran's execrable cover of Dylan's Lay Lady Lay?

Mood instantly broken; gloom sets in.

But It's Literature, I Tell You!

Let's see, Miami City Attorney Jorge Fernandez is either grossly incompetent or worse (see testimony in fire fee scandal), is unable to review contracts (see Orange Bowl fiasco), and takes expensive trips to Hawaii on the taxpayer dole.

He also sends lucky lawyers in his office to screenwriting class.

Maybe that's where Assistant Miami City Attorney Bill Juliachs came up with this literary gem:

A Dec. 31 office-wide e-mail from Juliachs has stirred controversy for including the following quote from 18th century French writer-philosopher Voltaire:

``I would like to know which is worse: being raped a hundred times by negro pirates, having a buttock chopped off, running the gauntlet of the Bulgars . . . being dissected, rowing in a galley, in short, suffering all the misfortunes we've all suffered, or being stuck here doing nothing?''

Juliachs intended the e-mail to be motivational, but many took it to be offensive.

''Totally uncalled for,'' Fernandez described it.

Juliachs has been formally reprimanded and ordered to attend diversity training. He must also write a letter of apology to coworkers. He did not return phone calls seeking a comment Monday.

''He quotes ad nauseam FDR, Descartes and Plato -- and Shakespeare galore,'' Fernandez said. 'He can never write a simple little e-mail, `Get your butt to the training field.' ''

Following the Voltaire quote, Juliachs stressed in his e-mail the importance of employees attending their last football practice before the Jan. 5 city-county showdown. Then he quoted former President Theodore Roosevelt: ``The trumpet call is the most inspiring of all sounds . . . ''

While critical of his employee's choice of words, Fernandez noted the charity game raised ''hundreds and hundreds'' of canned goods for homeless-services organization Camillus House.

Juliachs, Fernandez said, ``feels extremely remorseful and very, very beside himself.''

Yet the e-mail reignites a tense subject at the Miami city attorney's office: whether the department is an unfriendly environ for black attorneys.

Since Fernandez became city attorney in 2004, some of the department's most-prominent black attorneys have left for jobs elsewhere.
Hey, I just finished Mein Kampf and The Turner Diaries, maybe I should quote some provocative passages in my next brief.

But it's literature, I tell you!

Also, I don't know Bill Juliachs, but dude -- if you are quoting Voltaire and Teddy R. in your intraoffice emails, you might be a bit of of a poseur. Don't worry -- people will know you are smart if you don't try so hard.

Or will they?

Monday, January 14, 2008

More Lawyers Offer Traffic Advice

Not to leave Joe DeMaria with the final word from our Bar on South Florida's traffic woes, international man of mystery Jose Astigarraga offers his take as well:

While our biggest long-term challenge is education, the most immediate problem is transportation. Traffic congestion now has become a factor that people must take into account in planning their work day and is even curtailing economic activity. Some of our lawyers and employees spend more than 2 hours a day getting to and from work. While a single meeting's hour-long delay might seem innocuous, the total loss of productivity is real when multiplied by the number of times such conversations take place in our community. Congestion is a front-of-mind daily aggravation that will become significant in people's evaluation of whether to stay in South Florida. If Miami and South Florida expect to realize their hope of becoming world class, they must significantly upgrade the transportation system. Compare our public transportation system with those of London, New York, or Paris and you realize how far we have to go.
He's intelligent as always, and absolutely right. Traffic is a joke, and only getting worse. Our public transportation system is a disgrace, not even by international city standards, but simply by comparison to places like Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, New York, San Francisco, etc.

Your picks for which local lawyer will weigh in next on our traffic situation, after the jump!

Decisions, Decisions

Joan Fleishman is back on the beat, reporting on how personal injury attorney Jim Ferraro played Runaway Groom:

Ferraro, set to marry prominent real estate broker Patricia Delinois on Friday in a formal ceremony at Fisher Island's Vanderbilt Mansion, jilted her -- at the altar -- as they were about to exchange vows before 75 to 80 guests.
Ferraro, 50, in a black tuxedo with a silk shirt, walked down the aisle first. His escort: Mary High, mother of former NFL player and UM star Eddie Brown. High works for Ferraro, helping care for his children.
Delinois, 44, wore an off-white gown with lace, beads and crystals.
After five years of dating, the couple were to finally tie the knot. But, says Ferraro: 'When it was time to say `I do,' I just said, 'I love her but I just can't do this.' '' He walked away, flanked by sons James, 21, Andrew, 18, and daughter Alexis, 14.
The audience gasped. Delinois' sister, Ingrid Long, told off Ferraro -- loudly. Some say she yelled, ''You dog!'' Not so, Long says. ``I called him a snake. I think I even called him a few other things. I was trying very hard not to curse, but I think a few curse words came out.''
Says Ferraro: ``It was dramatic.''
Delinois declined to comment Saturday. But Friday evening she remained poised, greeting guests. Among them: Alto Reed, a saxophonist with Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band; NFL Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti; Rene Ruiz, a Coral Gables couturier who designed Delinois' gown and Ferraro's tux; telecom magnate Peter Loftin, owner of the former Versace mansion Casa Casuarina; construction tycoon Tom MurphyJr.; custom home builders Gary and Dana Shear; Lea Black, wife of criminal defense attorney Roy Black; and MarcRandazzo, who co-owns Randazzo's Little Italy restaurant with Ferraro. The Rev. Milan R. Kralik, who officiated, thanked everyone for coming and encouraged them to support the couple.
''There's not much you can say at a time like this,'' Kralik says.
Many were not surprised. It was an on-again, off-again romance. The couple applied for a marriage license in 2005. ''Not returned,'' county records say. They applied again on Jan. 4 and finalized their plans.
But at 8:36 a.m. Friday, Delinois e-mailed friends: ''After a lot of thought I think it's best that this wedding is canceled.'' A few hours later, she sent another e-mail: ``Relationships are not easy, but I think we have both reached that turning point and it is time for us to recognize and affirm our love by marriage. So we are getting married tonight. The ceremony starts at 7 p.m.''
Ferraro says he never planned to ditch her. ``I really intended on doing it. I tried my best.''
One insider estimates the affair cost $100,000.
Feeling awkward, some guests left. Others stayed for the reception and dinner. Ferraro went to an upstairs bar to chill, and later headed to the reception to apologize for how things turned out.
The issue, he says, was not money. ''We did have a prenup.'' She is CEO of Century 21 Premier Elite Realty. He has law offices in Miami and Cleveland, owns the Cleveland Gladiators arena football team, has a private jet, and built a 21,000-square-foot compound in Martha's Vineyard -- with 14 bedrooms, tennis court, basketball court, nine-hole putting green, movie theater, and weight and cardio gyms.
This time, Ferraro figures, their romance is done for good. ``She probably doesn't ever want to talk to me again.''
Wow. I guess it's better to make this type of decision before it's too late.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Akerman Shakeup

No, dedicated readers, it doesn't involve the much-discussed Chris Carver.

But with the utterly unreliable aid of commenter akerman fat-trimmer, let's break down DBR's excellent front page story on the current spate of turnovers at that venerable Florida institution:

Litigators Larry Silverman, James Sammataro and Scott Cosgrove plan to start their own boutique firm; labor and employment shareholders James Crosland, David Miller and Denise Heekin bolted for Bryant Miller & Olive in Miami; and litigator Sean Santini is joining Boyd Mustelier Smith & Parker in Miami.

The departures “are completely unrelated. It’s a normal course of business when you get to the size that we are,” Robert Zinn, president of the 420-attorney national firm, told the Daily Business Review.

He dismissed the speculation about more defections as sensationalism.

One source said the firm has missed its budget projections two years running and trimmed pay for partners at the end of last year.

A source familiar with the firm’s finances said Akerman missed its budget projection by 12 percent last year and partners were forced to absorb holdbacks tied to insufficient revenue. A shareholder said the budget shortfall was in the 2 percent to 3 percent range.

One source said some associates were taking home more than some partners on a weekly basis due to holdbacks and capital contributions.

Zinn denied the budget shortfall claim.

“That’s completely untrue. In fact, this year on average the shareholders in the firm all in the aggregate made 6 percent more than the previous year,” he said.

He speculated the 12 percent figure came from three years ago — but the firm made 12 percent more than its projected budget that year.

Many shareholders are upset over Akerman’s compensation structure and a recent flat-percentage capital contribution system tied to the firm’s annual budget projections. Sources said Akerman’s compensations structure, which places a premium on originating business, has caused a cannibalistic environment that keeps attorneys from working together. A department head who brings in new clients would not get extra money if the work went to others in the firm, a source said.

Not every lawyer contacted by the Review painted a gloomy picture of Akerman. In fact, the departing Silverman was bullish about the firm.

Contacted Thursday at his Akerman office, Silverman said he decided to form the boutique because Akerman had gotten so big it was conflicting out of cases he wanted to handle.

“Obviously, the fact that they are very healthy is not something they can or should apologize for,” he said.

Other attorneys indicated the firm expanded faster in some markets than it should have, citing haphazard growth to gain a bigger geographic footprint.

The latest defections come just after two other high profile shareholders left Akerman’s Miami office. Brian Garcia, former head of the immigration practice, joined Holland & Knight's Miami office last month as a partner. And labor and employment shareholder Marlene Quintana, also president of the Cuban American Bar Association, left Akerman late last year to join Gray Robinson.

Garcia left Akerman after more than nine years to join Holland's international and cross borders transactions group, where he hopes to build an immigration group.

Garcia told the Review earlier this week that he didn’t have an opportunity to build a practice at Akerman, and that he felt he did at Holland & Knight — a notion that Zinn rejected.

Last year, Akerman suffered several other key defections, including the former chair of its corporate securities practice, Kara L. MacCullough. She left last January for Holland & Knight along with corporate shareholders Laurie Green and Esther L. Moreno.

The firm has also suffered departures in its new out of state offices.

Three Washington, D.C., heavyweights walked away from Akerman last May to join Fulbright & Jaworski, leaving Akerman without a white-collar practice in the nation’s capital.

Duane Morris announced Tuesday that three former Akerman lawyers — Marvin Pickholz, Jason Pickholz and Jane Wexton — joined their New York office. Marvin Pickholz was the head of litigation for Akerman’s New York office and the national co-head of its white-collar group.

Zinn noted that Akerman recently added 21 attorneys to its New York office through various acquisitions.

Turnover was described as a two-way street.

One shareholder said departures are never a good thing, but they are standard in the business, the firm’s business is strong, and he is busier than ever.

In contrast, another source said Akerman resumes were flying around Miami.
According to akerman fat-trimmer, problems reported in the article exist but may be overstated. As reported, there are possible concerns over budget issues, overhead issues, underperforming partner issues, and associate disastisfaction issues. Some feathercappers at that firm may not be pulling their weight. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the calls and emails seeking to place some Akerman junior partners and associates.

Can a firm facing these issues survive and prosper? Of course. Some of these departures to my mind do seem overstated -- squarejawed Sean Santini doesn't stay with any one firm very long, anyway, so why should he be viewed as a lifer at Akerman? His move is probably unrelated.

Larry Silverman's group is a little more complicated. It's hard to spin that as not a problem, it's definitely a loss in my mind.

In any event, good luck to his new boutique -- I think it will be wildly successful.

I found this part of today's story intriguing:
Shareholder morale has suffered as paychecks have shrunk under pressure from sizable mandatory 401(k) contributions, holdbacks due to the budget shortfalls and increases in capital contributions, according to a source.

Some shareholders were particularly upset with the firm’s top leads after they gave themselves large bonuses when the firm missed budget for the second year and while other shareholders were making less money, one source said.

The firm’s expansion was also blamed by several sources for the firm’s budget shortfall and diminishing shareholder compensation.

The growth has also caused Akerman to lose sizable referral business from out of state firms that don’t have a presence in Florida.

After Akerman gave up its Florida-only strategy some firms stopped sending it business because they viewed it as a competitor, said a source, who added the referrals accounted for a lot of work.
I would figure that firm elders thought through the possibility of lost referral business when they decided to expand nationally. And increased holdbacks recently are not unique to Akerman. Question -- if the report is true about lost referrals, who stands to gain locally? Mark Raymond -- don't answer that.

I'm sure we have not heard the end to this story. Good luck to all involved, and please note that resumes can be submitted to my email address.