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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Apr. 23, 2004 15 years ago

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

This week's items: Brighton Furnishings to liquidate Plaza Verdi negotiations said to be moving smoothlyPresident nominates Florida appellate Judge Virginia Maria Hernandez Covington for U.S. Judge

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

Brighton Furnishings to liquidate

The rumors that Brighton Commercial Furnishings, a Sarasota-based business-to-business furniture retailer, is closing are partially right and partially wrong. Company President Steven Husak says that for the past several months he has been dealing with a family crisis and a divorce, which have kept his focus off the business.

In addition, Husak says a local businessman, who had invested about $510,000 in the company, had to pull out his money due to personal reasons in September or early October. "The business very quickly disintegrated," he says. "The passion just wasn't there."

As to the future of the company, Husak says he plans to liquidate all of the company's furniture in the Orlando, Tallahassee and Sarasota locations, and he hopes to be able to repay creditors later this month.

"We will see what happens in the next 30 to 45 days," Husak says. "We are doing the best we can." If Husak is able to pay his creditors he hopes to transition Brighton from a showroom based furnishing store to a furniture consulting business, which would deliver furniture on an as-needed basis.

Ian Black, owner of the warehouse that houses Brighton Sarasota at 1075 Central Ave., is suing Brighton and its lease guarantor Diversified Supply Management Inc. and Industries Training Corp. over non-payment of rent. "They still have a year left on their lease," Black says. "If anyone is interested in leasing the building I would suggest getting in touch with Brighton or its guarantors." The building is 5,230 square feet including about 3,200 square feet of air-conditioned office and showroom space.

Negotiations move smoothly

While officials for Houston-based Ersa Grae Corp. negotiate with the City of Sarasota on the final details of the developer's Plaza Verdi, at Palm and Cocoanut avenues in Sarasota, talks are said to be progressing well for a May release of a draft terms-sheet. "I am really pleased with the progress both sides are making," says Andrew Dorr, Ersa Grae's project manager for the Plaza at Five Points. "Things are going terrific. Compared to other projects I have been involved in, it seems to be moving along at a good pace. There don't seem to be any large issues that are holding things back."

The two groups are still trying to pin down the complex financial and development requirements for building a 100-room condominium/hotel, a 10-floor mixed-use building, an 840-space parking garage, new facilities for the Golden Apple Dinner Theater and Sarasota Opera and a pedestrian galleria. As proposed, the project would create a million square feet of mixed-use space.

The draft term-sheet should be made available the first week in May, followed by presentations before the Community Redevelopment Agency and the CRA Advisory Board in June.

Brothers' favorite

Apparently Gov. Jeb Bush's confidence in state appellate Judge Virginia Maria Hernandez Covington had a substantial influence on his big brother. On April 20, the Congressional Record reported that President George Bush nominated the 2nd District Court of Appeal judge to replace U.S. Judge Ralph W. Nimmons Jr., who died last year. The governor appointed Covington, 48, to her current job in 2001.

If approved by the U.S. Senate, Covington would replace a judge who served in the Jacksonville division of the Middle District of Florida. Federal judgeships are lifetime appointments.

Covington received a bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Tampa, and a law degree from Georgetown University.

Over the years, Covington worked as a Federal Trade Commission trial attorney, an assistant Hillsborough County state attorney and an assistant U.S. attorney. She served as chief of the U.S. attorney's asset forfeiture section prior to the governor's appointment.

As of April 6, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary reported that Bush has submitted 87 U.S. district judge nominations since January 2000. Of that total, 59 have earned confirmation. The committee has yet to publish a hearing date to discuss Covington's nomination.

Keep the laundry list

The U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, which includes Sarasota and Manatee counties, plans to go paperless in July. That means that any attorney filing a motion or a new case in the federal court after July must know how to use the district's computer system via the Internet. The court is offering training at the Tampa courthouse, as well as lessons at law firms that have 10 or more attorneys.

"I'm the worst techie in the world, but I know we have to go this way," said federal Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich. She expects there'll be a few glitches. Other federal courts have already made the switch. And at least one lawyer has inadvertently attached a laundry list to a filing. But she expects it to save money in the long run: couriers will no longer be needed and less paper will be used. Visit the court's Web site at for more information.

The ultimate jurors

David Russell Stahl, the subject of a recent GCBR profile, has been in the news for mostly the wrong reasons during the past three years.

But the Tampa personal-injury attorney thinks we should have focused more attention on a client's recent $18 million jury verdict than on his own 2001 arrest on child-sex charges.

Stahl, who is still waiting for his criminal trial, sent over to Coffee Talk a first-person account from client Ramiro Campanioni of the ordeal that led to the civil award earlier this year.

Campanioni, 41, a native of Ybor City, was critically injured in 1996 when a Tampa water truck rammed into his bicycle on East Hillsborough Avenue. "My doctor testified that my legs had been torn apart like the wishbone of a chicken," writes Campanioni.

But Campanioni says Stahl put on a deliberately sterile case. "In closing argument, Russ was careful not to inflame the jury," writes Campanioni. "He was thinking about the Legislature."

Florida cities are generally liable for a maximum of only $100,000 in damages resulting from such court judgments. State lawmakers must approve a local bill to exceed the ceiling.

"Russ told me that he was trying the case for the Legislature as much as the jury and didn't want anyone to say that he had appealed to the jury's emotions," Campanioni continues.

Stahl wasn't quite so restrained outside of the courtroom. "Look at what they did," he told Coffee Talk, referring to city officials. "It's a form of organized crime."

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