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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Jan. 28, 2005 15 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Hush or elseCitizens unites bankersWoman of firstsStick with usJust dues
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Hush or else

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt Downey III has sentenced a dozen people to death over his 20-year judicial career, he says. In all that time, he can recall, perhaps, only one other defendant who came even close to the verbal harangue Emory Carter hurled at the judge during a Jan. 24 sentencing hearing.

Carter's behavior so infuriated Downey he ordered bailiffs to cover the mouth of the convicted murderer with duct tape. When that didn't work, members of the Pinellas jail's correction response team, donned in riot gear, took over and completed the job.

Downey's actions quickly became the stuff of legends for the purveyors of talk on the Tampa Bay area AM radio dial. He has no regrets about his decision.

"If I had to do it all over again I would do the same thing," he says.

Downey knew this would be a difficult sentencing. In December, he originally sentenced Carter, who represented himself, to life in prison for the murder of Mike Kelley in St. Petersburg. (A defendant has a constitutional right to defend himself.) Carter had then launched in a verbal harangue doused in profanities.

On Monday, Downey ordered Carter back into courtroom. He realized he forgot to ask Carter whether he wanted a lawyer. Shackled and bound, with duct tape on his face, Carter nodded no.

"I've sentenced a dozen people to death and none of them ever acted like he did," Downey says. "And I wasn't even going to give him the death penalty."

Citizens unites bankers

The post-hurricane mess at state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. doesn't just have policyholders and Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher on edge.

The Florida Bankers Association has issues as well.

Not the same issues, mind you. Some homeowners with storm-damaged property weren't sure last year if they would see a Citizens adjuster in their lifetimes. Gallagher is concerned that the problems at Citizens will tar him just in time for a 2006 gubernatorial run.

As for the bankers, they say the state insurer's atrocious customer service could delay their mortgage closings because borrowers won't be able to get through to Citizens to finalize policies.

The bankers also don't like talk of cutting agent commissions. That could mean fewer agencies where lenders will be able to collect insurance payouts when mortgaged properties are destroyed.

Finally, many bankers have gone into the property and casualty insurance business since that was legalized six years ago. And some of them see a competitive threat from Citizens.

Citizens was supposed to be an insurer of last resort. But the bankers say the state insurer's rates don't reflect that.

"They do not seem to be high enough to discourage new customers from purchasing policies," the bankers association recently informed a Gallagher task force. "The volume of policies is still increasing. If Citizens wishes to decrease the number of policies, increasing premium rates may be the most likely route to follow."

Woman of firsts

The editors of UF Law, the University of Florida Levin College of Law alumni magazine, spared no ink recently in a colorful three-page spread on the successful legal career of Carlton Fields PA shareholder Sylvia Walbolt.

Titled, "A Woman of Firsts," the article recaps Walbolt's stellar performance in 2001, when the National Law Journal picked her as one of the top 10 U.S. women litigators. That year Walbolt, a corporate defense attorney who chairs the law firm's board of directors, participated on appellate teams that produced more than $100 million in reversals. Over a 42-year career, she has been cited in more than 180 published decisions.

The magazine refers to a number of Walbolt's achievements, starting from her days as the only female law school student in the class of 1963. It also recounted her selection as Carlton Fields' first female shareholder and the first woman elected president of the Florida Bar Foundation.

Stick with us

Fifth Third Bank has begun a local advertising campaign aimed at retaining the customers it inherited from First National Bank of Florida.

The Florida affiliate of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp officially took over First National on Jan. 1, completing a $1.5 billion acquisition.

First National was the banking unit of Naples-based First National Bancshares of Florida Inc., which had about $7 billion in assets at almost 100 branches concentrated around Boca Raton, Fort Myers, Naples, Orlando, Sarasota and the Tampa Bay area.

An odd ad in Bay area newspapers features a cheerful-looking photograph of somebody who is identified only as "Brenda W." in the copy.

The somewhat mysterious Brenda is not signing her name to a letter for the advice columnist in the features section. She's described as a commercial lender who worked at First National for eight years and is quoted now lauding Fifth Third's commitment to local decision-making.

That's what they all say, when big banks buy littler ones in Florida. After less than a month, it is probably a little soon for Brenda to be so sure about her new employer.

Many a community banker along the Gulf Coast has been making a pretty good living during the past few years by telling customers that the out-of-state bank down the block has to call Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte or who-knows-where before they'll get their loan.

Just dues

Stuart Markman wants readers to know he did a better job on an appeal for Athle-Tech Computer Systems Inc. than described in a Jan. 7 GCBR article about the Tarpon Springs maker of digital-film editing equipment. We asked Markman if the reporter misunderstood the 2nd District Court of Appeal opinion. The Kynes Markman & Felman PA partner says, no; it was a complicated appeal that requires an insider's understanding. (It was kind of him not to point out we'd made a mistake.)

So Markman says the appellate court affirmed $860,695 in pre-acquisition proceeds and $4.45 million on a claim for unjust enrichment, in addition to the $1.8 million GCBR reported in the Jan. 7 issue. Then the appellate court reversed the trial court's decision to deny prejudgment interest of about $1.3 million, he adds.

In all, Markman says, the appellate court affirmed a total award of more than $8 million, including pre- and post-judgment interest.

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