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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. February 25, 2005
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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Best and worst

It was the best of the times and it was the worst of times for Tampa lawyer David Russell Stahl in 2004. He won one of the country's largest verdicts at $19.9 million and within months he was found guilty of sexual battery on a teenager and sentenced to six years in the state pen.

His verdict was one of two in the Tampa Bay area recognized by the National Law Journal on its annual list of the Top 100 Verdicts for 2004. Stahl's verdict against the Tampa Water Department placed 87th on the list. His client, Ramiro G. Companioni Jr., suffered debilitating injuries when his motorcycle struck the rear of a city water truck.

Yerrid Law Firm lawyers Steve Yerrid and Theresa Fiset were 51st on the list with a $33.9 million verdict for Daniel Hiscock.

Hiscock sued Griffin Inc. over injuries he suffered while riding in the rear of an armored car. Coin boxes in the armored car came loose and crushed him. Jack Luks and Anthony Petrillo of Fort Lauderdale's Luks Santaniello Perez Petrillo & Gold represented the defendant, Griffin Inc.

It's unclear whether Stahl, an inmate at the Holmes Correctional Institution, celebrated the recognition.

Consumers liking little banks

Banks have had happier depositors and borrowers during the past two years, according to the University of Michigan's latest quarterly American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The American banking industry had the same score as last year, 75. But that was the highest score that the industry has attained since 1994.

Improving scores for smaller banks are keeping the industry average from declining, says Claes Fornell, who directs the index. Fornell, a business school professor in Ann Arbor, says merger activity among the universal banks is upsetting consumers.

"Mergers and acquisitions often lead to deteriorating customer satisfaction as companies reduce costs," Fornell says in a Feb. 15 news release from Michigan. "The data suggest that the recent mergers are not contributing to improved customer satisfaction."

In the battle of Charlotte, N.C.-based banking giants, Wachovia Corp. got the best of Bank of America Corp. in the latest Michigan survey. Wachovia's score went up 2.6% from last year while B of A's dropped by almost the same percentage.

Throughout the entire U.S. retail sector, Fornell says there has been a stark drop in consumer satisfaction. That doesn't bode well for a country with an economy that has been propped up by consumer spending in recent years.

Invader raises profile

While some local bankers predict a new competitor from Cincinnati won't make much more than a ripple along the Gulf Coast, Fifth Third Bancorp has continued an aggressive promotional campaign.

Fifth Third took over First National Bank of Florida late last year in a merger.

Now, along with print advertisements and the like, Fifth Third is trying to show an early commitment to a neglected neighborhood of Tampa.

The bank has wired a transit bus with Internet capabilities and has christened it, the Fifth Third Bank Homeownership Mobile.

The e-Bus, for short, rolls south for a March 9 appearance at an open-air market in East Tampa. The 29th Street Open Air Market is sponsored by the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa Inc., an inner-city CDC whose president is the politically savvy Chloe J. Coney.

The bus is equipped with 12 computer workstations where residents may complete mortgage applications and receive credit counseling.

George A. Schaefer Jr., president and chief executive of Fifth Third's holding company, is expected to be down for the e-Bus visit to one of his newest markets.

Good publicity and a few brownie points on the Community Reinvestment Act scale. But nothing for Fifth Third's local rivals to worry about - yet.

One more term

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge David Demers, called "DAD" by some of the judges, won a third, two-year term as chief judge at a Feb. 22 secret ballot. He was challenged for the administrative job by Circuit Judge George Greer.

Demers referred all calls about the election to Ron Stuart, the court's public information officer. Stuart says he doesn't know how many judges voted for Demers. However, he says the judges voted unanimously to affirm Demers' re-election on a second vote.

It appears Stuart might have a good reason for not being informed about the election results. Beginning Feb. 22, he took the brunt of the media and citizen inquiries about the Terri Schiavo legal proceedings. Greer extended until Feb. 25 a stay on his 2000 order to remove the feeding tube that has sustained the lie of the brain-damaged woman.

Besides all of the media calls, Stuart tells us he received at least 40 calls before 10 a.m. Feb. 23 from individuals offering their opinions about the Schiavo case. It seems an unidentified legislative office referred all of its irate calls about the Schiavo case to Stuart. The problem became so bad Stuart would answer only media inquires through his cell phone.

Stetson gets $500,000 endowment

The Joy Culverhouse McCann Foundation has found a genuine way to honor Carlton Fields lawyer William Reece Smith Jr. The private family foundation has donated $500,000 to the Stetson University College of Law to endow the William Reece Smith Jr. Distinguished Professorship.

Each year the foundation will award the professorship to a law college member who distinguishes his or herself as a leader in an area of law, exhibits a commitment to professionalism and excels as a student mentor. Honorees will receive grant money to support projects.

Over the past five years, the family foundation - chaired by Joy McCann Culverhouse Daugherty and Dr. Robert Daugherty - has awarded nearly $10 million in grant money to Florida nonprofit organizations and educational institutions.

This honor recognizes the contributions Smith has made to the legal profession since his admission to the bar in 1949. He is a former president of the International Bar Association, the American Bar Association, the Florida Bar and the Hillsborough County Bar Association.

Among his contributions, Smith founded Florida Legal Services Inc. in 1973 to assist indigent persons. He served as the nonprofit group's first president.


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