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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 12, 2005 14 years ago

Legal Briefs (Tampa)

Top Florida creditors' rights firms mergeLawyer dismisses complaint against child welfare agency6th District JNC chooses judicial nomineesSchwartz joins bar grievance committeeCarlton Fields elects Sasso new presidentPhelps Dunbar adds associateWolfe joins Bricklemyer Smolker & BolvesFowler White adds insurance attorneyCarlton Fields receives awardFoley & Lardner recognized for workAttorneys receive board certification
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Legal Briefs (Tampa)

Top Florida creditors'

rights firms merge

Two of Florida's largest creditors' rights firms - Echevarria & Associates PA and Codilis and Stawiarski PA - finalized a merger Aug. 1.

"With the increasing complexity of creditors' rights representation, we believe that our combined resources can have a huge, positive benefit to our customers and the industry at large," says Michael Echevarria, managing partner of the new group, called Florida Default Law Group PL.

The new firm will do business as Echevarria, Codilis & Stawiarski. Mike Echevarria will be president, and Joe Circelli and Ron Wolfe will serve as vice presidents and join the firm's management committee.

The merger "of equals" creates one of the largest creditors' rights firm in the state, says William B. Casale, chief operating officer.

"If we're not No. 1, we're nipping at their heels," Casale says. "Our plan is to continue to grow. We're adding new clients every month."

The 23-lawyer firm has locations in Tampa and Orlando and an attorney who works out of South Florida, Casale says.

"We bring together our technologies, which I'd say are state-of-the-art in this industry," Casale says. "Plus we have seasoned lawyers who have been in business for a long time."

In the past few years, both firms became automated to increase efficiency, Casale says, adding: "We have a case management system that is proprietary. We're basically a paperless environment. There's not a lot of duplicate data entry which decreases errors and labor costs."

The firm's primary competitors are the law offices of Marshall Watson and David Stern, both based in South Florida.

More growth might be forthcoming.

"We'd like to look to other law practices out there that would like to grow with Florida Default Law Group," Casale says.

The group does work on behalf of creditors such as large lenders, financial institutions and investors. In addition, the firm's partners - Echevarria, Ernie Codilis and Leo Stawiarski own a separate entity, Newhouse Title, which does more than 100 real estate closings monthly.

As for the firms' customers, Casale says, "It should be seamless to them."

Lawyer dismisses complaint against child welfare agency

A lawsuit brought in May against Hillsborough Kids Inc. and Children's Home Inc. by a court-appointed administrator for the estate of 4-month-old Phoenix Jordan Parrish was dismissed last month at the request of the plaintiff's attorney.

Chris Glover, an attorney with Hollis & Wright PLC of Birmingham, Ala., did not return a telephone call, and there's no explanation in the court file for Glover's request for dismissal without prejudice.

Glover sued the child welfare agency for allowing the infant to be taken from Florida to Dothan, Ala., where he rejoined his abusive parents, whose parental rights were severed by a Florida court shortly after his birth. The lawsuit states the child died in December from a skull fracture, broken ribs and two broken wrists. His mother is charged in his death.

Glover accused the social workers at Hillsborough Kids of losing track of the child.

6th District JNC chooses

judicial nominees

The 6th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission chose six lawyers, including two county judges, as nominees for a vacant circuit judgeship in Pinellas-Pasco counties.

Nominees are Thane Bobbitt Covert, Joe Lovelace, John "Jack" Helinger, George M. Jirotka, and Judges Shawn Crane and Dorothy Vaccaro. Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to decide within 60 days which one is named circuit judge.

The JNC also chose six nominees for two county judgeships: Susan Helms Bingham, Carl E. Brody Jr., John Carassas, Myriam Irizarry, Edwin B. Jagger and Joe Lovelace. Carassas, a deputy attorney general, is a former state representative; and Irizarry works for the Pinellas clerk of the court.

Schwartz joins bar

grievance committee

Carlton Fields PA shareholder Adam P. Schwartz was appointed vice chair of the Florida Bar Statewide Advertising Grievance Committee for a three-year term. Schwartz practices in the areas of white-collar criminal defense, health care fraud and pharmacy law. He has degrees from St. Joseph's University and Temple University School of Law.

Carlton Fields elects

Sasso new president

It's official: Gary L. Sasso will replace Tom Snow as president and chief executive officer of Tampa-based Carlton Fields PA, the fourth largest firm in Florida by number of lawyers.

Sasso, a 52-year-old Miami native, was elected at an Aug. 4 shareholders meeting.

He has an economics degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated at the top of his law class at the college in 1997.

At Carlton Fields, he most recently was a member of the firm's executive committee and board of directors. He also chairs the firm's litgation and dispute resolution practice group.

Prior to joining Carlton Fields in 1987, Sasso worked for Bredhoff & Kaiser, Washington, D.C., and as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White. He also clerked for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia.

Snow, who has led the 240-lawyer firm for nine years, plans to retire in February.

"Gary brings clear vision, integrity and a leadership style that will serve the firm extremely well," Snow says in a written statement.

In other firm news, American Lawyer magazine ranked Carlton Fields as one of the top 200 firms in the nation for the fourth consecutive year, based on 2004 gross revenue of $93.5 million or $460,000 per lawyer. The firm moved up six slots to 189th place.

Net operating income was $36.5 million or $410,000 per equity partner for the same period, according to the trade publication. Average compensation per partner was $340,000.

Phelps Dunbar adds associate

Bret M. Feldman joined Phelps Dunbar LLP as an associate in the firm's Tampa litigation practice group. He received his law degree from the University of Florida in 2000.

Wolfe joins Bricklemyer Smolker & Bolves

Adam M. Wolfe, who was part of the team that obtained billions for the state of Florida from tobacco companies, has joined Bricklemyer, Smolker & Bolves PA as an associate.

Wolfe, a graduate of Cornell University Law School, focuses primarily on commercial and real estate litigation. He previously worked for Foley & Lardner.

Bricklemyer Smolker & Bolves, which has offices in Tampa and Longwood, represents property owners on all matters, from due diligence to regulatory taking.

Fowler White adds insurance attorney

Jennifer L. Marino, who specializes in appellate and insurance defense, joined Fowler White Boggs Banker PA as an associate in Tampa. She's a graduate of Long Island University and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

In other firm news, Cathy R. LeBeau, who is of counsel in the health care practice group, was elected co-chair of the Hillsborough County Bar Association's Health Law Committee. And Anthony J. Fantauzzi III was elected co-chair of the Hillsborough bar's Law Week Committee. Also, Fantauzzi was selected to join the Tampa Bay Inns of Court as an associate.

Carlton Fields receives award

Carlton Fields PA, a Tampa-based firm, received the "Friend of FAWL" award from the Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers. Edith G. Osman and Kristy M. Johnson accepted the award on behalf of the firm at a July 22 luncheon.

Foley & Lardner recognized for work

The life sciences practice at Foley & Lardner LLP was recently recognized as one of the best in the country by the Practical Law Co.'s 2004-'05 Cross Border Life Sciences Handbook for the firm's work in the intellectual property, competition/antitrust and regulatory areas.

The publication also named Foley & Lardner's Stephen A. Bent, founder of the firm's life sciences industry team, a leading attorney in the intellectual property category.

The handbook is a guide to the law and leading lawyers in the industry.

Attorneys receive board certification

The Florida Bar recently certified 221 Florida lawyers as specialists in 19 areas of legal practice, including the newly approved area of construction law.

In addition to passing a written test to become board certified, a lawyer must have a minimum of five years experience, show substantial involvement in the field for which certification is sought, receive a satisfactory peer review assessment of competency and meet continued legal education requirements.

Newly certified Tampa Bay area lawyers:

• Construction Law - Anthony J. Abate, William Garth Christopher, George Joseph Dramis III and Conrad Jorge Lazo, all of Sarasota; Michael R. Carey, Trenton Hugh Cotney, Andrea Marie Fair, Stephen Douglas Marlowe, George Joseph Meyer, Randall Patrick Mueller, Louis Prats, John Harrison Rains III, Hardy L. Roberts, George Edson Spofford IV, Brian Frederick Stayon, Joseph George Thresher, John Sebastian Vento, Brett Garrett Wadsworth, William Cary Wright and Mark Andrew Campbell, all of Tampa; and Brian Paul Deeb, St. Petersburg.

• Appellate practice law - Celene Harrell Humphries, Tampa.

• Aviation - Christopher S. Morin, Tampa.

• City, county and local government - Jewel White Cole, Donald Stephen Crowell and Dennis Long, all of Clearwater and the Pinellas County Attorney's Office; and Kenneth Anthony Tinkler, Tampa.

• Civil trial - Robert John Healy Jr., Chris Matthew Limberopoulos and Julian A. Sanchez, all of Tampa; and Mark Herman Garrison, Clearwater.

• Elder law - Dennis Reppard DeLoach III, Seminole, and Kara Lynn Evans, Tampa.

• Labor/employment law - Luis Cabassa and Tracey K. Jaensch, both of Tampa; and M. Sean Moyles, Clearwater.

• Tax law - Cristin Ann Conley, Tampa, and Earl John Wagner II, Sarasota.

• Workers' compensation law - Mark William Ingram, Sarasota.

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