Friday, February 29, 2008

Jorge Fernandez and Tomas Regalado -- Made for Each Other

One is a disgrace and totally incompetent, the other is a disgrace and...

Oh I can't get them straight anymore. Let's just go to the videotape:

The ex-official's generous benefits package included a provision for six months' severance upon separation from the city -- regardless of the circumstances. Commissioners allowed that contract to expire, but a recent outside legal opinion obtained by the city said the contract terms remain in effect because a new, different contract was never adopted.

Under the city charter, commissioners should have voted on a new contract for Fernandez immediately after last fall's election.

But by then, the pending investigation by prosecutors was public knowledge, and city leaders were hesitant to discuss Fernandez's future. Neither Fernandez nor the commission made an issue of the attorney working without a contract.

It's possible Fernandez could now sue for his payout. Fernandez did not return calls late Thursday.

If a protracted lawsuit ensues, legal fees alone -- even if the city wins -- could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, Commissioner Tomás Regalado said.

''It is worth it,'' Regalado said, ``because the people of Miami cannot afford any more scandals.''

Fernandez joined the city about 3 ½ years ago, but didn't always have a severance-no-matter-what clause.

In 2006, commissioners -- with Regalado appointed to evaluate Fernandez's performance -- updated his contract and sweetened his compensation in a variety of ways, including removing language that left severance under the commission's discretion.

Regalado, while acknowledging he reviewed some parts of Fernandez's pay package back then, said in an interview Thursday that he didn't notice the severance changes during that review.

Fernandez's increased compensation wasn't approved without criticism. Then-Commissioner Linda Haskins noted its generosity and joined Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones in voting no. It passed 3-2.

So let's recap -- Regalado was in charge of reviewing Fernandez's performance. He acknowledges reviewing the pay package but "didn't notice" the revisions which gave Fernandez a hefty severance irrespective of the reasons for termination. He then casts the deciding vote in favor of the Fernandez severance package giveaway.

The next year, when the contract expires under a cloud of investigation over charges that led ultimately to Fernandez' resignation, Regalado stands by and does nothing, allowing the contract to govern in the absence of a new written agreement.

Now he wants a lawsuit -- one it appears difficult if not impossible for the City to prevail on, given these facts -- because "it would be worth it."

Only in Miami, folks, only in Miami.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Just Who Is Ira Buchbinder?

Have they finally just merged, bodies and soul, to create some kind of uber-lawyer? Yes, says DBR reporter Billy Shields:

Attorney Ira Buchbinder of Buchbinder & Elegant in Miami who represents the city, declined to comment.

It's about time. You take the pugnacious elements from one, and the humor and good grace from the other, and you just about have it all in one shiny, unbeatable package.

BTW, these things happen, and Billy Shields is doing some terrific work.

This even happened to me once, when I accidentally merged GT boss Cesar Alvarez and lovely Adorno Yoss attorney Teresita Chavez, and wound up calling him Cesar Chavez.

(Though the two Cesars do share a deep concern for poverty, working conditions, and farmworkers' rights.....)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Power Outage Hits Downtown!

Wow, that was weird. I have never seen so many lawyers and staff out on the streets all at once, downtown, walking around aimlessly as traffic lights were down, metromover at a standstill, elevators stopped, major buildings without power, and courts and restaurants closed.

Heck, even the normally unflappable Alan Lash looks unamused. But he saved his file!

Tom Julin Refuses to Comment

He's like that, sometimes:

Miami lawyer Thomas Julin, who represents Bardach for The New York Times, declined to comment and specifically refused to discuss whether Bardach had turned over her subpoenaed decade-old tapes of the Posada interview.

Julin told The Miami Herald that the tape matter was ''still unresolved,'' without elaborating.

Come on Tom!! Open up! Don't you just wish, for once, that you can just let it all hang out, throw caution to the wind, tell us how you really feel, and just let it rip!

Nope, me neither.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Stop Making Sense

Here's attorney Harley Tropin, representing Norman Braman, at the County Commission meeting that recently approved handing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to a private business for a for-profit baseball enterprise, using funds dedicating to easing poverty, blight, and to providing affordable housing:

Miami attorney Harley Tropin, representing car dealer Norman Braman, challenged the lack of public participation in the process and called for a referendum. He said his client would drop the lawsuit in circuit court to block the global agreement if a referendum was held.

Tropin also said it was wrong, and the lawsuit charges it is unconstitutional, for the city and the county to spend community redevelopment money on projects that don't remove blight, provide for affordable housing, prevent crime and redevelop slums.

What's to worry -- look how well the Miami Arena worked out!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Cost of Freedom? $200 Billion

And that's just Miami attorney Nick Gutierrez's exit fee:

He is handling nearly 400 claims against Cuba's government, mostly on behalf of exiles who left their homeland in a hurry and had their property seized after Castro's guerrillas entered Havana and took power nearly half a century ago.

Castro's retirement this week raises hopes that the property claims will finally be settled, Gutierrez said in an interview on Wednesday. "We may still be years away but we're closer to the end."

He says U.S. citizens and companies lost roughly $8 billion at today's prices in confiscated property in Cuba and have 5,911 claims pending with the U.S. government's Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.

The nationalized property of Cubans far exceeds that, however, and Gutierrez said it could total as much as $200 billion. "You're talking about some serious, serious value."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Breaking -- Bobby Gilbert Wins Another Round in Citrus Canker Fight

Bobby gets a jury trial in Broward:

In another major legal victory for thousands of South Florida residents, a Broward circuit judge ruled Thursday that a jury -- not the state -- will determine how much the government will have to pay for citrus trees ripped from their back yards during the failed canker eradication program.

Broward Circuit Judge Ron Rothschild rejected the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service's insistence that the trees were a valueless public nuisance because they had been exposed to citrus canker and might spread the disease.

The ruling means there will be a jury trial on the value of more than 133,000 trees owned by more than 72,000 Broward residents.

Does anyone in government ever sit down, analyze a piece of litigation, and decide it is in the best interests of everyone to seriously discuss settlement?

A Miami Story

LA has Raymond Chandler, New York has Jimmy Breslin, and Miami Jay Thornton?

In an "only in Miami" story, Jay spins a fanciful tale that has opposing counsel Luis Delgado shaking his head, perhaps in admiration:

For the first time since he was shot and nearly killed last May, Latin songwriter Estefano on Wednesday faced in court the man he accuses of hatching a murder plot against him.

Fabio ''Estefano'' Salgado is suing former financial manager, Jose Luis Gil, claiming he conspired a plot with a West Miami-Dade Santeria church and recording studio handyman Francisco Oliveira.

''It was pretty chilling for him. He was looking into the eyes of somebody he believes betrayed him and planned his demise,'' said Estefano's attorney, Neil Taylor.

In Wednesday's civil court hearing, Circuit Judge Ronald Friedman ordered that bank accounts and property tied to Gil would remain frozen for now.

Friedman ordered the assets frozen after the suit was first filed in November. Estefano's civil attorney, Jay Thornton, told the judge it was important to ``protect what is left of his stolen wealth.''

The suit alleges Gil stole millions from the songwriter, creator of hits for Latin heavyweights such as Marc Anthony, Shakira and Gloria Estefan.

Last week, Estefano's attorneys filed an updated lawsuit to include the Ochosi Yoruba Santeria church, which they say received $2.4 million of Estefano's money from Gil over the years.

Gil has not been charged in connection with Estefano's shooting. He denies involvement.

Miami police say Oliveira, facing trial for attempted murder, shot Estefano in the chest and back of the head May 25 inside the songwriter's waterfront mansion.

Estefano has returned to songwriting, his attorneys say.

In Estefano's lawsuit, it is claimed his former financial manager ``somehow acquired complete control over nearly all of Estefano's funds and intellectual and other property.''

It also says Gil gave Oliveira ''unlimited access'' to the studio's bank account and even wired money to Oliveira's wife after the handyman's arrest.

On Wednesday, Gil's attorney, Luis Delgado, stressed allegations in the lawsuit are a plot to overdramatize a simple contract dispute.

''I can't even begin to address them, they're so far-fetched,'' Delgado said.

Let's see -- with all bank accounts and property of the client frozen, I suspect Luis will be addressing these claims shortly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More Gross Legal Incompetence and/or Corruption At City Hall

The saga of disgraced Miami City Attorney Jorge Fernandez continues. This time -- wait for it -- it involves a "poorly drafted" employment agreement that may give Fernandez as much as $250k in severance, irrespective of the reasons for his termination:

In a statement in Spanish and English, he formally admitted that he was reimbursed by the city for expenses unrelated to his job. One example was a $600 reimbursement he received after throwing a $1,500 party for his son at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant. Fernandez will have to pay back $3,000 in dubious reimbursements and another $11,000 for the cost of the investigation.

But his gray cloud may have a silver lining. "He certainly could be looking at more than $250,000," said Commissioner Marc Sarnoff. Sarnoff, who is also a labor attorney, said Fernandez's generous severance is a failure on the city's part. "This is poorly negotiated, poorly bargained for on behalf of the city, whoever did this," Sarnoff said.

Sarnoff said he has been told that Fernandez is in line for $186,000 in severance pay and another $86,000 for vacation and sick time. Commissioners have hired an outside lawyer to see if they have to pay.

According to the city attorney's contract, Fernandez is due severance whenever he "separates" from city employment. There's no exception, even for resigning under a corruption cloud. The language in Fernandez's latest contract seems absolute, Bogert reported. He's entitled to six months pay when he separates. That's a change from his first contract, which gave commissioners discretion on whether to pay up.

"Someone did a job very favorable to the city attorney," Sarnoff said. "I'd like to know who negotiated that because that person should be brought up before the commission."
Hmm, I wonder who did negotiate that sweetheart deal.....

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Judge Ungaro Sanctions Richard Burton

Judge U lowers the boom on attorney Richard Burton, in a well-reasoned and logical opinion in the General Del Pino case. I don't know Richard Burton the attorney, or any of the facts of that case, so I have no idea whether Judge Ungaro's order is fair or not.

All I do know is if this Rule 11 order were a Richard Burton movie, it would undoubtedly be Father Lamont from Exorcist II. Not exactly something you want to highlight on your resume.

I'll put up a link, probably tomorrow, unless someone beats me to it.

UPDATE: Too technologically inept to upload the order, but I see you can view it here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Roberto Martinez Is Highly Evolved

There is an important vote before the Florida Board of Education over whether or not to update Florida's education protocol so that evolution is not just mentioned in passing, but is instead a mandatory teaching topic in Florida's public schools:

Nearly 150 years after Charles Darwin revolutionized biology, evolution will become required study in Florida classrooms if the state Board of Education approves new science standards Tuesday that explicitly names the ''E'' word for the first time.

The standards, which haven't been updated since 1996, were written by scientists and educators to modernize Florida's science education curriculum, which has been derided by mainstream science for years, in part for lacking explicit mention of evolution.

Now it's not just going to be mentioned. It's to be taught, from sixth grade on up, as ``the fundamental concept underlying all of biology [that] is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.''

The fact that evolution is absent from the current standards attests to the perceived weakness of science education as well as to the power of the religious right and other evolution opponents who have launched a full-scale assault on the proposed standards by tapping rank-and-file churchgoers, intelligent-design activists and a high-powered lawyer involved in the nationally watched Terri Schiavo euthanasia case.

So how does Colson Hicks litigator and board member Roberto Martinez feel about all this, given the growing "science gap" between moribund American students and overachievers in Japan, China, and Europe:

Roberto Martinez, a Miami-based board member, said he'll vote to keep the proposed standards as is because he trusts the National Academy of Science and the American Association of the Advancement of Science, which praised them.
Hey, I praised Britney Spears once, but that was a long time ago and I was blind drunk and....well, let's just say that was a long time ago.

Roberto, let's hope you have a similar excuse when you explain your vote to parents of Florida public school students.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

For the Good Times

Notoriously inept, incompetent, and...well, let me stop there.

Miami City Attorney Jorge Fernandez has "resigned":

Television station CBS4 reported that Fernandez brokered a plea arrangement with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office. Fernandez will reportedly plead guilty to two counts of making false official statements, avoiding felony charges.

Fernandez is to be adjudicated as guilty, pay the city $3,093.44 in restitution and serve a year's probation. He also agreed not to seek work in the public sector.

Please -- we don't want him! Well, to be honest, I'm gonna miss him. We've had some fun with him, for example here, here, here, and here, so there's part of me that still wants to see his high-flying freefalls continue, if nothing than for sheer entertainment value.

But then again, we'll have a chance to chuckle again once he attempts to enter private practice.

Paul Huck Jr. Coming Back to Miami

He's joining plaintiffs' firm Colson Hicks, after serving Governor Crist for only a year.

Is Tallahassee that bad?

Let's see, his Dad is a federal judge, his wife is a 3d DCA judge, and he's joining one of the most connected, preeminent plaintiffs' firms in the state.

No wonder he always seems so happy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Seth Miles Settles a Big One

Young gunner Seth Miles recently settled one of the wrongful death claims arising from Palm Beach multimillionaire Fred Keller's shooting spree:

Millionaire murderer Fred Keller was known as a tough, tight-fisted businessman, and now in death his estate has prevailed in court cases for the second time in the past week.

Lawyers for the estate of Rosemarie Keller, the ex-wife whom Keller shot dead, accepted a $6.37 million settlement from Fred Keller's estate on Tuesday, during the third day of a wrongful-death lawsuit being tried without a jury. One of the attorneys for Rosemarie Keller's estate said at the trial's outset that they were seeking $37 million.

"It is certainly less than the total amount we sought," said the attorney, Seth Miles. But "the family members are satisfied."

The money, minus the attorneys' contingency fee, will be divided among Rosemarie Keller's family. In her will, Rosemarie Keller left 70 percent of her estate to her son, Fredchen, who turns 13 on Friday, and 30 percent to four siblings and her mother.

A jury last week awarded one of Rosemarie's brothers, Wolfgang Keil, $3.16 million for physical and emotional injuries he incurred in the same shooting that claimed his sister's life. He had sought $33.6 million.

The lower amounts were consistent with what the attorneys for Keller's estate said was reasonable.

Still to be settled is a claim for noneconomic damages by Fredchen Keller.

The settlement in the latest case is solely to compensate Rosemarie Keller's estate for income she would have earned had she lived out her natural years. Attorneys on both sides said it was a tricky business estimating what that amount would be.

"It was tragic that Rose died prematurely, and it was difficult to forecast what she would earn in the future," said Steven Rothman, one of the lawyers for the Fred Keller estate.

Hmm. Hard to tell who really prevailed on this one. Could these amounts have been negotiated without forcing the families into a painful trial? Did Steve Rothman and Peter Sachs' defense strategy save their clients money, or did they spend a lot of client dough for a settlement that was on the table from the get-go?

Monday, February 11, 2008

More Fun and Games With Jim Ferraro

Fresh from jilting his bride at the altar (they subsequently did indeed marry), this time ole Jim is seeking to enforce a "verbal agreement" with his deceased law partner in Ohio:

For nine years, Michael Kelley and James Ferraro ran one of the most profitable plaintiffs' law firms in Cleveland — so profitable that they were able to buy three jets, million-dollar mansions and an arena football team.

In 2003, a Cleveland business magazine put Kelley on the cover, labeling him "The King of Torts" for his "billion-dollar asbestos practice." Both partners were prominent political contributors and even lent their planes to Democratic heavyweights like Hillary Clinton.

But following Kelley's sudden death in 2006 of a heart attack, the fate of the law firm — and the estimated billions of dollars, planes and arena football team — is in the hands of a Cuyahoga County state court judge.

In a law firm battle that has turned downright ugly, Kelley's widow, Lynn, a former Cleveland Heights municipal judge, is battling Ferraro for half of the law firm's total assets, once estimated at $3.5 billion.

Solid evidence?

In a lawsuit filed in May 2006 — just three months after her husband's death — Lynn Kelley demanded dissolution of the 15-lawyer firm and division of the assets, including the jets and the arena football team, the Las Vegas Gladiators, which will be moving to Cleveland this year.

Kelley's lawyer, William Wuliger of Cleveland, said he has rock-solid evidence: a partnership agreement that spells out how, if a "liquidating event" occurs, the law firm would be dissolved and the profits and assets split. "And I believe a liquidating event includes death," Wuliger remarked dryly.

But Ferraro — who also owns a highly successful plaintiffs' firm in Miami, The Ferraro Law Firm; a well-known Coral Gables, Fla., restaurant, Randazzo's; and a 21,000-square-foot, 14-bedroom compound in Martha's Vineyard, Mass. — apparently sees things differently.

His attorney, John Climaco of Cleveland's Climaco, Lefkowitz, Peca, Wilcox & Garofoli, would not comment on the case, citing a gag order issued by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul.

However, Ferraro has said in previous interviews that he had a verbal agreement with Kelley that, if one of the partners died, the deceased's family would get graduated payouts for several years, and then they would end.

Ferraro also promised to provide medical care for Kelley's son, Christopher, who was partially paralyzed in a car accident. Christopher died in January 2007.

Ferraro has maintained that the partnership agreement does not refer to death and that Lynn Kelley is mentioned nowhere in the agreement. According to a former partner who declined to be identified, since Ohio law is vague about partnership agreements, it will be strictly up to the judge or jury to decide what Kelley gets, if anything.

After mediation and settlement talks failed, the case is now headed for trial in March. The trial is expected to generate fireworks, and could include testimony from Bernie Kosar, a former National Football League quarterback and part owner, CEO and team president of the Gladiators.

And the state of the Kelleys' marriage is also expected to be under a microscope, according to sources.

Kelley's widow wasted no time in filing a lawsuit after her husband's death. Wuliger said he filed it quickly for fear that Ferraro would file his own action in Florida. Additionally, Lynn Kelley stated in her suit that she wanted to prevent Ferraro from wasting the firm's assets, frivolously flying around the country, and from cutting off medical benefits to her son. She sought a restraining order that would freeze firm accounts, but the judge has not ruled on it.

The case has been so contentious that both sides sought a gag order to prevent the other from talking to the press. Many documents have been sealed. One judge was removed from the case. Sanctions and protective orders have been sought by both sides.

And in a frustrated effort to gain information about finances at the law firm, Wuliger has tried to subpoena or depose everyone from Kosar to executives from the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Browns sports teams. A former partner, John Sivinski, who has a contractual case against the firm, filed a motion to intervene.

Citing the gag order, Ferraro declined to comment.

Wuliger, however, said he did not believe in the gag order and the secrecy surrounding the case and decided to speak to The National Law Journal.

"This is a damn fog," Wuliger said. "Everything is under seal. I believe that these things should be open to the public.

"I'm very confident in my case," he added. "It's hard to imagine a more clear-cut case."

When asked where he got the figure of $3.5 billion, he said, "Information evolves over time. If you look at historical financial information, this law firm generated significant money."

Still, he acknowledged that it has been difficult for him to get financial information out of the firm.
Hmm. Another well-written piece by Julie Kay, although I don't get the spin about "only three months," which is repeated more than once in the story. Three months is unusually short? How long should the wife have waited?

I'd also like to see the partnership agreement. I don't see how a "verbal agreement" with a decedent could contradict or even inform a written agreement between law partners.

Michael Diaz Likes Fine Wine, Jazz, Large Multinational Corporations

Litigator Michael Diaz Jr. seduces large multinational corporations with the coo-coo buttercups of love:

Hailing from more than 50 countries, some 1,400 South Florida multinational companies -- a number expected to grow exponentially over the next decade -- produce more than $200 billion in annual revenue, according to a recent Beacon Council and WorldCity study. Yet these staggering numbers could easily double over the next five years as free trade agreements proliferate and South Florida's ''secret'' spreads: We are much more than just the ''Gateway to Latin America'' -- we're a global launching pad.


Certainly South Florida's strategic location between Latin America, Europe and North America helps lure multinational corporations to the area. But that's just part of the attraction. In addition to the obvious advantages presented by a multiethnic and multilingual community and workforce, South Florida boasts the largest concentration of banks south of New York City, with more than $60 billion in deposits -- much of it coming from Latin America, second only to Europe, the Middle-East and Africa as a source of multinational investment.

What does this all mean for South Florida's economy and future? Certainly in the short term, European companies will take advantage of the weakened U.S. dollar to increase their South Florida investments. But our solid historical positioning as the ''Gateway to Latin America'' bodes an even brighter future.

Is it just me, or does this guy know how to sweettalk?

Cue Dr. Philip Barbay, enticing the lovely and voluptious Sally Kellerman in Back to School:
Dr. Phillip Barbay: I've been doing a great deal of thinking lately. I've been thinking... about us.
Diane: And?
Dr. Phillip Barbay: And I think we should start thinking about forming a... well, um, a...
Diane: A merger?
Dr. Phillip Barbay: A merger! Exactly, exactly. A merger... a partnership. Seriously, Diane, we're both intelligent, well-educated adults. We should be together. Incorporated, if you will. Look at the balance sheet. We were made for one another.
Diane: [laughing] Oh, Philip, you darling. I don't want to be merged or incorporated. I want to have fun and be romanced and... be loved. So, let's not rush into anything. Let's just start by having fun, OK?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Ben is On Everyone's Mind

Well, Ben's appearance before Judge Brown yesterday could not have been more well-timed, given that there were at least two Bar events later that day for lawyers to congregate and discuss this shocking news. Between the Dade County Bar luncheon and the Federal Bar reception later that evening, many of us had an opportunity to join in common cause in denouncing this misguided prosecution.

Although, given how (charmingly) verbose Judge Brown can be, it's somewhat surprising we made it out of his courtroom at all.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ben Kuehne Arrested!

Come on, what the hell is going on in America:

Ben Kuehne, a widely respected Miami lawyer whose clients have included former Vice President Al Gore and other major politicians, surrendered Thursday on federal criminal charges for his behind-the-scenes role in a complex international drug-trafficking case.

An indictment, unsealed at his morning court appearance, charges Kuehne in a money-laundering conspiracy with approving tainted legal payments by an accused Colombian drug kingpin to his defense attorney in Miami.

The fee payments turned out to be illegitimate because they allegedly came from drug proceeds in violation of federal law, federal prosecutors said.

Kuehne, appearing in Miami federal court at 10 a.m., said, ``since I am completely innocent of these charges, I am entering a plea of not guilty.''

Two co-defendants, Gloria Florez Velez and Oscar Saldarriga Ochoa, were also named in the indictment. They, too, pleaded not guilty.

Justice Department officials allege that Kuehne broke the law in 2002-03 when he vouched for millions paid by one-time Medellín drug lord Fabio Ochoa Vasquez to his high-profile trial attorney, Roy Black.

Kuehne's research gave Black the confidence -- in the form of legal opinion letters -- to accept payments totaling $3.7 million in fees and $1.3 million in expenses from Ochoa, according to several sources. Kuehne earned a portion of the expense payments -- $220,000 to $260,000 -- from Black for vetting Ochoa's payments.

Is there anyone in the South Florida legal community who doesn't think this indictment is a complete load of crap?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"There Can Be Only One"

A battle of Highlander proportions is shaping up inside historic Courtroom 6-2 before Judge Freeman. It's an insider trading case pitting dapper Brit Mark Solomon from the San Diego office of Coughlin Stoia against truck-for-food holiday card giver Gene Stearns.

Word is that Mean Gene has been repeating the same thing for something like eight thousand days straight. I know -- who'd a thunk?

The plaintiff, who I understand is testifying right now, basically responded with "everything that guy just said is bullcrap." Okay, I'm paraphrasing.

Also heard that Judge may be problem, and has not allowed in much (if any) of the plaintiff's expert evidence. Will she bounce some or all of the claims when the plaintiff rests?

At the risk of receiving yet another dreadful, outcome-oriented 3d DCA opinion, I sure hope not.

Jay Kim Has An Associate!

I kid, I kid.

Apparently, he's even nice to this unnamed, alleged young lawyer:

Jay Kim, of the Fort Lauderdale law firm WardKim, recently allowed an associate to work a few weeks from another country and others to have flexibility to do volunteer work during office hours. Ward says associates only need to convince him that whatever arrangement they want won't affect their ability to get their work done. ``Everyone knows if employees are happy, they do better work.''
What the heck kind of work ethos is that -- time off for volunteer work, working from another country? Is this person a peace worker or an attorney?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Alvarez Memo

I've been asked a few times to comment on this Cesar Alvarez memo to all Greenberg Traurig lawyers, recounted in this DBR story:

Greenberg Traurig fell $10 million short on year-end collections and will leave salaries “at present levels until we get a better financial picture for 2008,” chief executive officer Cesar Alvarez wrote in a memo to the firm’s lawyers.
The year-end memo caused an immediate stir among associates, prompting Alvarez to quickly send a second note to the firm’s 1,750 lawyers saying that he was not freezing associate pay. Associates typically get a raise each year as they become more experienced.

Alvarez told the Daily Business Review that the salary freeze at Miami-based Greenberg is for equity shareholders only.

The internal memos sent Dec. 30 were leaked to the blog, and a copy was obtained by the Review from the blog.

The initial memo was a series of mixed messages praising the employees but warning about “significant challenges” posed by the souring economy and cost-cutting pressures in the legal industry.

Alvarez cited the “wonderful strides” made by the firm, but the memo looked ahead to “this year of uncertainty” and warned about the “need to watch every dollar” and “manage conservatively for the greater good.”

In his memo, Alvarez said the firm had already collected $313.5 million and projected to finish December with $330 million in collected billings — “a great accomplishment when you consider the housing situation, the subprime issues and the dislocation of the credit markets.” The firm was hoping to collect $340 million.

In an interview, he said the firm had its best year ever, 2007 revenue exceeded the firm’s budget projection by $19 million, and revenue is expected to be up by double digits this year.

But the memo said “vocal” clients are “taking action on the perceived high cost of legal services” by asking for lower bills and lower hourly rates or specifying experience levels for professionals assigned to them.

His references to pay were chilling to some.

“We have tried to compensate everyone fairly, and we hope that next year will be no different,” Alvarez wrote. “More will be asked from each of you, and if you answer the call and help our firm have a good year by working efficiently and doing more, we will do out best to reward those who did their part.”

The memo has been a topic of discussion among Greenberg attorneys, but it hasn't created any deep concern about the firm's future, said one of the firm’s South Florida lawyers who asked not to be identified.
I think that's about right. It's interesting reading that memo how -- despite the pressures and challenges cited by Cesar in various markets serviced by GT clients -- there is no reference to opportunities for the litigation group to benefit from them. What, is Hilarie Bass chopped liver? That's pretty telling, IMO.

And though there is reference to increased expenses, I am sure there is a back story there, and that significant efforts are being made to manage that firm more frugally than has been done in the past.

So, How Was Your Super Bowl?

Reports coming in on lawyer-hosted Super Bowl parties....I heard there was a great rock band at Gary Levinson's house, and that a few lawyers got sick at a certain mansion off of Old Cutler.

Me, six shots of tequila in and I started to think the Giants could win it. Man, I need to lay off the booze.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Moldy Federal Courthouse Update

Intrepid reporter Julie Kay continues to break news on the allegedly moldy old federal courthouse:

A federal judge issued an emergency ex-parte restraining order barring the federal government from cleaning up mold from the David W. Dyer Federal Courthouse in Miami and allowing an inspection of the building to take place immediately.

According to documents that were unsealed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story — sitting in the Miami case — issued the order Monday to preserve evidence in a case that was brought by the children of deceased Magistrate Judge Ted Klein. Klein died of a mysterious respiratory illness that his family believes was caused by years of working at the old courthouse building.

"There is a reasonable risk that material evidence located in and around the David W. Dyer Federal Courthouse, relating to a future claim by the Kleins, against governmental entities and/or private entities, will be modified, altered, mitigated, destroyed and/or remediated and that such change will significantly prejudice the Klein family, causing immediate, irreparable and continuous harm because the contaminants, toxins and/or other evidence will be permanently lost," stated Story's order.

Story also authorized Klein family attorney Alan Goldfarb and his experts to "inspect, photograph and videotape" the Dyer Building.
So the cleanup has been stopped, per court order, yet the building continues to be occupied?

Once again, I ask: What is the point in airing this out in public? Why aren't the feds stepping up to resolve this quietly and privately? If there is a need for further investigation before a settlement can be reached, why not agree on a procedure and do this by agreement? Undoubtedly additional plaintiffs are waiting.....

Is This Thing On?

Ok, sorry for the lack of content, I had to go make some money.

Now that I got that pesky lawyering out of the way, let's have some fun. This story about "abysmal associate attire" had me thinking. Which firm has the best-dressed associates? The worst? I can remember some atrocious outfits, but nothing quite as bad as yoga pants and Ugg boots:

The generational divide is playing out in law firm fashion wars, with younger lawyers favoring business casual and even yoga pants and older lawyers tending to wear more traditional business attire.

Some associates are resisting suggestions to improve their attire, with career ramifications, the Wall Street Journal reports. Other firms are taking steps to teach their associates about dressing well.

Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft reportedly sent a note to employees asking them to change out of their snow boots after some associates wore their Ugg boots all day long, according to the story. Winston & Strawn went further, inviting a personal shopper to talk to associates about dressing for work and an etiquette counselor to talk about grooming as well as the rules of social interaction.

Where this becomes problematic is for firms that have lawyers who have well-cultivated "genius eccentricities." We all have them -- lawyers who are self-consciously "eggheads," and who flout conventional dress and even grooming habits. Brickell would be half-empty without 'em.