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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. March 4, 2005
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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Money talks louder than props

Kenneth D. Lewis found himself in an unusual position in Tampa.

The chairman, chief executive and president of giant Bank of America Corp. was outgunned - at least when it came to visual aids.

Sharing a Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center stage with two fellow CEOs, Lewis had to think quickly. Tony Nicely of Government Employees Insurance Co. brought a montage of GEICO's clever television commercials to project onto big screens. Philip S. Orsino of Masonite International Corp. adorned the stage with two of his latest door models.

The University of Tampa invited the trio of corporate heavyweights to address its annual Fellows Forum March 2 on the topic of how to brand a business to stand out from competitors. It wasn't until questions and answers that Lewis offered an apology: "I forgot to talk about my products."

Then the BofA boss removed a billfold from his pants pocket. The audience of UT faculty, MBA students and local business leaders roared in amusement.

The question on the floor at the time had to do with corporate philanthropy.

Lewis lamented that BofA is limited in the variety of in-kind donations that it can make to local charities. "Of course, our in-kind is cash," Lewis said, "which people seem to like the most."

Walls crumble down

The Oyster Roast, the Clearwater Bar Association's biggest shindig of the year, no longer is the most exclusive. Time was when nonmember attorneys weren't allowed at this evening of good food and camaraderie. Well, that's changed this year, so long as the nonmember is a guest of a member.

This is the 59th consecutive year the Clearwater Bar has sponsored the adults-only event. Fun and games begin at 5 p.m. March 19 at Florin Roebig PA, 777 Alderman Road, Palm Harbor.

Yep, that's right. Florin Roebig. Not Florin Roebig & Walker PA. Michael Walker left the firm last year to join Palm Harbor attorney Jeff Hensley in a venture called Hensley Walker PA.

Besides the typical fun and merriment, members get the added benefit of celebrating the association's 75th anniversary. Word is the desert station is working on a special cake in celebration.

Clearwater lawyer-mediator Herb Langford oversees the festivities this year as the event chairman.

Divesting of assets

In 2003, the property at 6824 N. 50th St. in Tampa was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Saad Saad, who owned Mike's Food Store at that location, was arrested on charges of stealing baby formula from area grocery stores, according to newspaper articles. But there was more to it than his arrest. The North 50th Street property was owned by Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor accused of illegally supporting and raising funds for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group responsible for more than 100 killings.

The property no longer belongs to Al-Arian. He sold it Feb. 15 to Yasin Saad, a Tampa-based developer, who used the name of 50 Center LLC for the $500,000 transaction. Saad also owns Colonial Grocers Inc., according to state records.

Last straw

Don't ask a banker about his CAMELS. The two of you could end up in the pokey.

Just a reminder from your friendly banking regulators.

Four government agencies are warning insurers to stop making liability coverage for bank directors and officers dependent on disclosure of a secret rating of an institution's financial condition.

On a scale of one to five, the composite score issued by bank examiners is known as a CAMELS rating. CAMELS is an acronym for the six factors that examiners attempt to measure: capital adequacy, asset quality, management, earnings, liquidity and sensitivity to market risk.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the Office of Thrift Supervision are enlisting the help of state insurance officials to force bank insurers to do underwriting without the CAMELS rating.

Federal law prohibits disclosure of CAMELS ratings to anybody without explicit regulatory approval. Criminal penalties may be imposed.

The feds justify the big hush-hush by pointing out that a "composite 5" on the CAMELS scale is usually the straw that breaks the bank's back. The next step for regulators is typically closing down such a low-rated institution for reckless lending.

All things fair

While thinking about all things fair, Coffee Talk wondered whether either Tampa criminal defense lawyer John Fitzgibbons or Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman attended the Law Follies on Feb. 24 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

The follies is an audacious annual event - filled with irreverent skits and some fairly skilled choreography - staged by local lawyers and judges and sponsored by the Hillsborough County Bar Association.

Well, two of the skits this year happened to concern one of Fitzgibbons' clients, Debra LaFave. She's that blond schoolteacher accused of an illicit affair with a middle school student. Let's just say the skits were fairly suggestive of the more serious topic matter.

It so happens neither Fitzgibbons nor Timmerman attended the follies. Fitzgibbons was vacationing in Colorado, while Timmerman took some time off elsewhere.

While wondering about such things, Coffee Talk asked Fitzgibbons whether such a skit in any manner infringes on LaFave's due process rights. He answers articulately.

"On the one hand, I wish I had some of the cast members on the jury," he says. "On the other hand, the state has scored her out for 15 years (as a possible prison term). It's a very serious case."

It also wouldn't matter to Fitzgibbons even if Timmerman had ventured into those halls of merriment.

"The courts are exposed to a lot of things," he says. "They read the newspapers and probably watch TV and all the different talk shows. Judge Timmerman is a fine judge, and he could clearly separate what's outside the court and what's inside the court."


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