On the Pulse...Our Fort Lauderdale, FL Office

Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties are home to more than 5.5 million permanent residents and millions more seasonal and vacation visitors. It made sense as Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin expanded into Florida to open an office in south Florida. In 2002, the firm opened its third Florida office in Fort Lauderdale. The office is strategically located, being within walking distance of the Broward County and federal courthouses. The office's close proximity to Interstate 95 enables its attorneys to have easy access to the state and federal courts located in Miami-Dade and West Palm Beach, both of which are less than a one-hour drive from the office. The office also serves Monroe, Martin, Indian River, Lee and Collier Counties.

In 2006 the Executive Committee gave me the opportunity to become the managing attorney for the Fort Lauderdale office. I accepted, and after passing the Florida Bar examination, my family and I left Philadelphia, which had been my adopted hometown for over 28 years, and moved to south Florida. Having been part of Marshall Dennehey since 1993, I brought to the Fort Lauderdale office my strong relationship with attorneys in the Philadelphia office and surrounding offices, and I am able to tap into this well of expertise when needed.

After a few months in the office, I recognized that there was a core group of lawyers - consisting of Rick Ravine, a shareholder who heads up the office's General Liability Practice Group, and Andrew Marchese and Jonathan Kanov, experienced associates in the Professional Liability Practice Group - upon which the foundation for a successful office could be built. All three of them are dedicated, hardworking attorneys who are zealous in the defense of their clients and who are always looking for innovative, practical and cost-effective solutions to the issues they face. From this foundation the office has grown in four short years, expanding our office space and increasing from six lawyers to fourteen lawyers, practicing in three of the firm's primary practiced groups: general liability, professional liability and insurance coverage.

In addition to my role as managing attorney, I am also the supervising attorney for the Professional Liability Practice Group throughout the state of Florida, and I have an active case load. The Professional Liability Practice Group handles complex litigation matters, primarily defending non-medical professionals including lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers and property managers. The group also routinely defends these professionals in proceedings before their licensing and disciplinary boards. The group represents non-profit organizations and their directors and officers, particularly homeowner associations and condominium associations. Additionally, the group handles a number of employment matters, including defending individuals and organizations against claims of discrimination and other employment practices.

Lawyers in this group have extensive experience handling all types of professional liability cases. Each attorney has developed considerable knowledge and experience in unique areas that can be applied to a particular case. In addition to representing non-medical professionals, my practice includes representing non-profit associations and boards, FDCPA and FCCPA matters and employment discrimination claims.

Andrew Marchese has focused part of his practice on cases involving the sale of financial products, employment discrimination and the defense of condominium and homeowner associations and their officers and directors.

Jonathan Kanov has become very active in defending attorneys, real estate agents, brokers, appraisers, title agents and lenders in the exploding litigation that has risen out of the real estate crash as individuals, investors and banks look to litigation as a means of recouping their losses. Jonathan also handles a variety of complex commercial cases.

Wendy Leavitt, who joined our firm in 2009, brings to the group her extensive experience defending corporations and their officers and directors in security actions, breach of fiduciary litigation and other corporate/governance disputes. Wendy has been involved in a number of class action cases in both state and federal courts. She has also been extensively involved in defending individuals and corporations against claims made pursuant to the FDCPA and FCCPA.

These four senior attorneys are assisted by Jeannie Liebegott and Marcie Cohen, who bring their energy and enthusiasm to the practice of law to better enable the group to service its professional liability clients efficiently.

Rick Ravine has been defending individuals and companies for over 30 years. As head of the office's General Liability Practice Group, Rick handles cases involving the entire spectrum of commercial, individual automobile and general liability policies, including slip and falls, products liability, automobile accidents, truck and transportation litigation, negligent security, construction site accidents and construction defect claims. In his capacity, he handles some significant exposure cases and oversees general liability files in the office. Rick is a trial attorney in every sense of the word.

In 2008, Abigail Cohen joined the General Liability Practice Group. Abby brought with her over 10 years of defense litigation experience. She has a great deal of experience in handling pre-suit claims with bad faith exposure, including global mediation on behalf of national insurers. Abby also has experience in mass tort litigation, having served as national coordinating counsel for a chemical company in defense of thimerosal claims nationwide.

Rick and Abby are supported by Ryan Burns, Joseph Mendelsohn and our most recent addition, Alan Nash. Together these three associates bring their energy and creativity to the General Liability Practice Group, enabling the group to serve our clients in the most efficient manner possible. All three of these attorneys already have considerable courtroom experience and have developed the confidence of several of the firm's long-time clients who assign cases to them directly.

Michael Packer joined the firm's Fort Lauderdale office in 2007. Michael has become the firm's supervising attorney of Insurance Coverage Practice Group in the state of Florida. The Insurance Coverage Practice Group assists our clients in all aspects of coverage disputes, including coverage evaluations and bad faith litigation. In particular, Michael defends property insurers throughout the state of Florida in first party coverage matters, where he responds to claims for losses from windstorms, sinkholes, fires, mold, theft and water. Michael's group also conducts examinations under oath and SIU investigations. In addition, Michael serves as the Chairman of the firm's subpractice group focusing on Chinese drywall litigation.

Joining Michael Packer in the Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith Practice Group is Steven Poljak, who has been a member of the firm since 1997. Steve practiced out of the Pittsburgh office until he recently passed the Florida Bar and joined the Fort Lauderdale office. Steve brings with him extensive appellate, insurance, bad faith and professional liability litigation experience. Like me, Steve has strong relationships with many attorneys in our Pittsburgh office.

Melanie Chapman joined the firm in 2009 and is part of the Insurance Coverage Practice Group. Melanie has over 10 years experience handling insurance-related matters and brings to the firm her substantial experience in the insurance coverage, bad faith arena.

In discussing the Fort Lauderdale office, I would be remiss if I did not mention our Administrative Office Manager, Sandra Doersam. She has been working in the legal service industry for over 25 years and knows the state and Florida court system as well as anyone. Her experience and knowledge are invaluable. Frankly, without her, the success and growth of the Fort Lauderdale office would not have been possible.

For in-depth descriptions of each attorney's background and experience, I would encourage you to access the attorneys' profiles through the firm's website at marshalldennehey.com. I, along with the other lawyers in the Fort Lauderdale office, am proud to be part of Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin. We are committed to upholding the firm's tradition as a leader in the defense litigation field, providing conscientious and quality legal representation to our clients. Please call me or any of the attorneys in the office if you have a question or if we can assist you in any way. We are located at 1 East Broward Boulevard, Suite 500, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 33301. My direct telephone number is (954) 847-4920, and our facsimile number is (954) 627-6640.

*Craig, a shareholder and managing attorney of our Fort Lauderdale, Florida, office, can be reached at (954) 847-4920 or cshudson@mdwcg.com.

Defense Digest, Vol. 16, No. 3, September 2010