Friday, January 31, 2014

Suspend Professionalism And Suspend Your License!

By Caroline Johnson Levine

Incivility in the legal community can be a constant source of frustration for attorneys who seek to honor and hold the legal profession in high regard. Some practitioners may unwittingly assume that nothing can be done to cure this issue. However, the Florida Supreme Court is working to remedy what some practitioners believe is an increasing problem of unprofessionalism in The Florida Bar.

In The Florida Bar v. Norkin, —So. 3d—, 2013 WL 5878901 (Fla. 2013), the Supreme Court recently overruled a referee recommendation that Jeffrey Alan Norkin should only be suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and serve 18 months of probation for unprofessionalism. In its place, the court imposed a two-year suspension of his Bar license.

Norkin was litigating a civil case in Miami when he “improperly threatened the filing of a legal action against [his opponent] personally and, without supporting facts, asserted that [his opponent] was involved in a conspiracy.” Id. at 3. Subsequently, Norkin filed a motion to recuse the presiding judge and wrote disparaging and unprofessional remarks about his opponent and the judge, to include assertions that the court’s rulings allowed the opposing party “in [a] fraudulent and criminal manner, [to] use this Court as an instrument of destruction.” Id. Further, Norkin asserted that the court “acted at the ‘beck and call’ of the plaintiff, and that there was an improper and illegal relationship between the judge” and Norkin’s opponent. Id.

Norkin routinely raised his voice and was confrontational in the courtroom until the judge finally granted Norkin’s motion for recusal. A second judge also found that Norkin was antagonistic, and eventually that judge “was forced to terminate [the] proceedings and refer” them to a general magistrate. Id. at 6. The Supreme Court found that Norkin’s “lack of professionalism and inappropriate courtroom demeanor made it impossible for the judges to conduct hearings.” Id.

Additional evidence of Norkin’s unprofessionalism became apparent in his emails, where he wrote statements such as “when is your unprofessional, ludicrous, downright unintelligent conduct going to stop? Before or after you are directed to pay my bills?” Id. at 7. Norkin’s subsequent outbursts included publicly screaming about his opponent, stating that “[he] is a liar. He’s lying” and that he “is underhanded and a scumbag.” Id. at 8.

The Supreme Court found that “the record amply demonstrates that Norkin knowingly, or through callous indifference, was incessantly disparaging and humiliating” toward his opposing counsel. Id. Further, the court found Norkin guilty of violating Rules 4-3.5(c), 4-8.2(a), and 4-8.4(a) and (d).  

Members of the public and the legal profession may assume that antagonistic lawyers are simply fulfilling a bona fide responsibility to be a zealous advocate. However, the Florida Supreme Court imposed a severe sanction upon Norkin, making it clear that incivility and unprofessionalism will not and cannot be tolerated in the practice of law.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Workers' Compensation: Redefining Coverage - Longshore/DBA/Jurisdiction Issues

By Anthony V. Cortese

The Florida Workers’ Compensation Act excludes coverage for any injury covered by the Longshore Act or its extensions, such as the Defense Base Act (DBA). Fla. Stat. §440.09 (2). These questions of jurisdiction are not waivable. As the federal statute and case law changes, the proper forum for litigation is changing, and in some cases there may be no United States coverage available.

In 2009, the president and Congress reduced Longshore coverage by excluding shipbuilders who build recreational vessels less than 65 feet in length, 33 U.S.C. Section 902 (3)(F) (amended 2009) (supp. 2011). In Czikowsky v. Ocean Performance, BRB No. 13-0108 (2013), the ALJ found that a hearing loss claim in April 2009 by a man working for a company that manufactured recreational vessels was excluded from coverage. The extension was held to apply even though the manufacturer also sold the vessels to fire departments and charter boat businesses. On appeal, the Benefits Review Board reversed, holding that a hearing loss claim is a repetitive trauma and exposure claim, and because some of the man’s work and exposure occurred before the act was changed, the injury was covered. An employer must maintain both coverages in the near future to cover repetitive trauma claims.  

In Delgado v. Air Serv, BRB No. 12-0283 (2013), the Benefits Review Board reversed an ALJ who dismissed a Defense Base Act claim from a man injured working on humanitarian transportation in Chad, Africa, as not covered by the act. The general rule had been that a DBA claim required that the employer be under a contract to provide service to the United States government, but in Delgado, the Benefits Review Board held that if the United States government provides even partial funding for services and approves employment contracts, there is DBA coverage.

The employment contract is becoming more important to the issue of appropriate jurisdiction and coverage in Florida and elsewhere. In Owens II v. CCJ Transport, OJCC 07-0342000 (2/11/10), the claimant was from Tampa, was retained by a company from Utah to drive trucks from state to state, sometimes drove through Florida, and was injured in Georgia, but there was no employment contract addressing workers’ compensation coverage. It was held that Florida did not have jurisdiction. The claimant in Owens II was not prevented from filing a claim in Georgia, but what if this injury had occurred while the claimant was driving a truck in Mexico or Chad, Africa?

The Longshore recreational vessel exclusion only applies if there is state workers’ compensation insurance available to cover the injury, so the injured worker is not left with nothing. What is more troubling is the possibility that a Florida worker could travel to a job overseas only to find no DBA coverage and no Florida jurisdiction. An employee traveling to a job overseas should be counseled to get language on workers’ compensation coverage in an employment contract, and an employer who puts such language in such an agreement will have better control over claims.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Intellectual Property: Florida’s Statute Of Frauds For Ideas

By Woodrow Pollack

Florida Statute § 501.972 is interesting and, to my knowledge, has never before been cited by any court.  That has now changed, with BP being awarded summary judgment in defense to an engineer’s claim that BP used his idea without permission. See Kaminski v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc., Case No. 8:12-cv-826 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 24, 2013) (J. Bucklew).

Joseph Kaminski, an engineer who worked for Honeywell building technology for NASA, wanted to help BP after the Deepwater explosion.  BP set up a system for receiving proposed solutions for stopping the oil leak, and Kaminski submitted a couple of his ideas.  Included in one of his submissions was the following:

"Please take this under advisement.  …  This will work and it is far easier than the 100 ton top hat.  …  When My son and I become paid hero's [sic] for the idea and helping you from here in tampabay [sic] florida.  I will say it was BP's willingness to work and find the right solution from anyone anywhere for this very unique problem.  You will also pay me and my son at least 2 million for the idea and my personal help to guarantee [sic] its succes [sic]."

Kaminski believes BP used at least two of his ideas, so he sued for breach of an implied contract as well as unjust enrichment.  BP sought refuge under Florida’s idea protection statute, which reads as follows:

501. 972   Actions based upon use of a creation that is not protected under federal copyright law.

(1) Except as provided in subsection (2), the use of an idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, discovery, thought, or other creation that is not a work of authorship protected under federal copyright law does not give rise to a claim or cause of action, in law or in equity, unless the parties to the claim or cause of action have executed a writing sufficient to indicate that a contract has been made between them governing such use.

(2) Subsection (1) does not affect or limit:
     (a) Any cause of action based in copyright, trademark, patent, or trade secret; or
     (b) Any defense raised in connection with a cause of action described in paragraph (2).

Thus, Florida has a statute of frauds for uses of ideas.  

The court was convinced by BP’s argument that this statute shielded BP from liability.  Recognizing that copyright does not protect ideas but expressions of ideas, the court found Kaminski’s submissions to be ideas governed by this law:

Here, Plaintiff’s ideas are not works of authorship and are expressly excluded from protection under the Copyright Act; Section 501.972 therefore applies to BP’s use of Plaintiff’s idea.

Because there was no writing between the parties executed by BP, Kaminski’s claim failed.  Florida’s sleeping statute of frauds for ideas has awoken.  Time will tell who else seeks shelter under this requirement for sharing your ideas in Florida.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Harmful Collaterals In Family Law Cases

By Joryn Jenkins and Lori Skipper

It is common in divorce proceedings that someone close to a party ― a parent, a friend, a child, a new romantic interest, or some other person whom the party trusts ― influences the outcome of the case.  Many people are incapable of making critical decisions during this stressful process without input from loved ones and other advocates.  Often, these outside influences are beneficial, but sometimes collaterals have a harmful impact instead.  When a third party becomes so embroiled that he or she controls the case, the impact can be toxic.

A collateral who finances the litigation often controls it. He or she may sign your retainer agreement (technically becoming the “client,” despite not being a named party).  The person may perform legal research. He or she may meet and correspond with you regularly, with your client’s approval, sometimes outside the client’s presence.  The person may go so far as to direct your actions and even prepare documents for you to file and/or execute.  Your client may feel unable to make decisions without the person’s approval, despite the fact that it is the client’s life that is impacted by them.

By financing and controlling the litigation, the collateral essentially substitutes himself or herself into the proceedings.  Given that the collateral has made himself or herself a party by virtue of involvement ― nay, control over the case ― the court may implead the person.

A “party” is “any person who participates in litigation regardless of whether or not [the party is] actually named in the pleadings.” Visoly v. Security Pac. Credit Corp., 768 So. 2d 482, 489 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000). That includes “one concerned with, conducting, or taking part in any matter or proceeding, whether … named or not.” Fong Sik Leung v. Dulles, 226 F.2d 74, 81 (9th Cir. 1955).  That includes, “not only those whose names appear upon the record, but all others who participate in the litigation by employing counsel, or by contributing towards the expenses thereof, or who, in any manner, have such control thereof as to be entitled to direct the course of [the] proceedings. …” Theller v. Hershey, 89 F. 575 (C.C.N.D.Cal. 1898). That includes anyone who “financed and controlled the litigation,” who “approved the filing of the lawsuit; controlled the selection of the plaintiffs’ attorneys; recruited fact and expert witnesses; received, reviewed and approved counsel’s bills; and had the ability to veto any settlement agreements.” Abu-Ghazaleh v. Chaul, 36 So. 3d 691, 693 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009).

Our courts have recognized when the assets of friends and family should be considered in determining one’s ability to pay. Mendana v. Mendana, 911 So. 2d 130 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005); Sibley v. Sibley, 833 So. 2d 847 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002); Luskin and Luskin v. Luskin, et al., 616 So. 2d 558, 559 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993). Because of the compelling interest in discouraging collaterals from becoming so involved in the proceedings that they cause either side to incur extraordinary fees, a suggested remedy may be to require third parties to pay those fees when they do so.

Limitations On The Discovery Of Electronically Stored Information

By Morgan W. Streetman

A little more than a year ago, the Florida Supreme Court made changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure in order to bring the rules into the digital era and to address some of the rapid developments in electronic discovery. A review of all of the changes is beyond the scope of this column, but the Supreme Court gave a short and clear statement of the changes on July 5, 2012. The changes apply to all pending and new civil actions.

Rule 1.280 was changed to allow litigants to request discovery of actual electronically stored information (ESI), which is “data” instead of traditional written documents. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280(b)(3). Given the volume and breadth of ESI created and stored in our “digital society,” adding that data to discovery is daunting.

To balance the burden of allowing discovery of ESI, the Supreme Court limited such discovery. The trial court must determine whether “the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from another source or in another manner that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive.” Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280(d)(2). The court must also conduct a proportionality test similar to federal litigation to determine whether “the burden and expense of discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties’ resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.” Id.

In a recent case in my practice, a party requested a “write block” of all of my clients’ drives as “discovery” under the new rules. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280(b)(3). A “write block” is a forensic copy of a drive that can be used in litigation. It captures all of the data stored on the drive, whether relevant or not. It is very invasive when sought in a business dispute between former partners.

Florida law does not require a party to permit a “write block” of its computer hard drives in discovery. The new rules highlight the need for restraint by requiring courts to balance the right to discover ESI with a consideration of the need, burden, expense, and issues at stake. Similarly, a recent case from the Fifth District holds that without proof of spoliation or “thwarting discovery,” a party does not have an absolute right to obtain ESI. Holland v. Barfield, 35 So. 3d 953, 955-56 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010). The court noted that there was a less intrusive means of discovery and that allowing the copying of a party’s computer drives “would expose confidential communications and matters extraneous to the litigation.” The court found a departure from the essential requirements of law and irreparable harm in the trial court’s allowing the “write block” without first balancing the factors or establishing appropriate protections.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Setting A Vision For The Health Care Law Section

By T.J. Ferrante and Sara Younger

Greetings!  We would like to take this opportunity to officially introduce ourselves as the new co-chairs of the Health Care Law Section.  We would also like to thank the outgoing co-chairs, Jessica Sara Cohen and Scott Richards, for their outstanding service to this section.  We look forward to serving you in the upcoming years and hope that we can meet the high standards set by the previous chairs.

We also would like to share with you our vision for the section.  During our tenure as co-chairs, our mission will be to serve you, our members, and our profession.  Our goal is to carry on the section’s tradition of giving you access to a local network of colleagues who are wrestling with the same questions as you and who are ready to render advice, assistance, and support that forges the bonds of mutual respect and lasting friendships.  In other words, the Health Care Law Section is ready to help you succeed by offering knowledge, insight, advice, and support that will help you with each facet of your practice at every stage of your career.

We have an ambitious and exciting agenda for the coming year.  As we draft this column, we are looking forward to seeing many of our colleagues at our November 13 section luncheon/CLE program.  By the time this column is published, however, the November program will be a fond memory of an insightful presentation shared with valued colleagues.  However, we will be able to look forward to other opportunities to study and enjoy relationships in the health law profession as we have three additional CLE luncheon programs scheduled for January 15, March 12 and May 6, 2014. 

We also are compiling a list of people who wish to become more involved in the Health Care Law Section and greatly welcome additional volunteers and suggestions for projects in which we can participate.  As you read through this column, we hope that you will consider becoming even more active in the section.  We are always seeking contributing authors as well as presenters for our CLE luncheon programs and other events. Your active participation in the section further strengthens our efforts to bring important information to our members for use in their health care law practices, whether in private practice, government, or in-house.  We will be sending out emails to the entire section soliciting such interest, and we strongly urge you to look for those emails and contact us if you are interested in participating.

It is an honor to serve as your co-chairs this year. If you have any ideas or suggestions to help us better serve you, feel free to contact T.J. Ferrante at or Sara Younger at

Environmental And Land Use Law: Citizen Testimony In Quasi-Judicial Hearings

By Pamela Jo Hatley
Land-use entitlement requests often trigger the protests of large numbers of citizens who are rightly concerned about the impact of development on their quality of life and the character of their communities. Hatley, P., Preserving Place: A Grounded Theory of Citizen Participation in Community-Based Planning (Proquest, LLC, 2013). The testimony of lay citizens in quasi-judicial hearings presents challenges for fact-finders, decision-makers, the applicant, and the citizens.  One such challenge is whether the testimony of lay citizens in quasi-judicial hearings constitutes competent substantial evidence to support a decision to approve or deny a land-use entitlement request.  This article is a brief survey of cases that have addressed this question.
For a quasi-judicial decision to be sustained on appeal, it must be “reasonably based in the evidence presented.”  Lee County v. Sunbelt Equities, II, Ltd. Partnership, 619 So. 2d 996, 1002-03 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993), quoting Town of Indialantic v. Nance, 400 So. 2d 37, 40 (Fla. 5th DCA 1981), approved, 419 So. 2d 1041 (Fla. 1982).  “Substantial evidence” has been defined as “such evidence as will establish a substantial basis of fact from which the fact at issue can be reasonably inferred … such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” DeGroot v. Sheffield, 95 So. 2d 912, 916 (Fla. 1957).  Formal court rules regarding the introduction of evidence are not strictly applicable to administrative processes.  However, the evidence relied on to support ultimate findings of fact “should be sufficiently relevant and material that a reasonable mind would accept it as adequate to support the conclusion reached.” Id.
It is not the purpose of quasi-judicial hearings to “poll the neighborhood” on the proposal in question. City of Apopka v. Orange County, 299 So. 2d 657, 659-60 (Fla. 4th DCA 1974); Conetta v. City of Sarasota, 400 So. 2d 1051, 1053 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981). Thus, the cumulative objections of neighbors do not constitute competent and substantial evidence on which to base findings and a decision. Id. Bare objections that are based on conjecture, the unpopularity of the proposed land use, or “laymen’s opinions unsubstantiated by any competent facts,” are insufficient. Conetta v. City of Sarasota, 400 So. 2d at 1053; BML Inv. v. Casselberry, 476 So. 2d 713, 715 (Fla. 5th DCA 1985); Pollard v. Palm Beach County, 560 So. 2d 1358, 1360 (Fla. 4th DCA 1990). General expressions of concern about possible traffic, crime, flooding, or noise impacts, without support of studies or empirical data, are not competent substantial evidence. City Comm’n of Miami v. Woodlawn Park Cemetery Co., 553 So. 2d 1227, 1229, 1235-36 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989); Flowers Baking Co. v. Melbourne, 537 So. 2d 1040, 1041 (Fla. 5th DCA 1989); Jesus Fellowship, Inc. v. Miami-Dade County, 752 So. 2d 708, 710-11 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000); Katherine’s Bay, LLC v. Fagan, 52 So 3d 19, 27 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010).
Nevertheless, citizens are able to offer competent testimony in quasi-judicial hearings without hiring “expert” witnesses. Metropolitan Dade County v Blumenthal, 675 So. 2d 598, 609 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995) (Cope, J., dissenting). on reh’g en banc, Metropolitan Dade County v. Blumenthal, 675 So. 2d 598, (Fla. 3d DCA 1996). When citizens convey facts that are relevant to the criteria applicable to the proposal in question, and of which they have first-hand knowledge, their testimony is properly considered and constitutes competent substantial evidence to support findings and a decision. Id.; St. Petersburg v. Cardinal Indus. Dev. Corp., 493 So. 2d 535, 538 (Fla. 2d DCA 1986); Board of County Comm’rs v. Clearwater, 440 So. 2d 497, 499 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983); Metropolitan Dade County v. Sportacres Dev. Group, 698 So. 2d 281, 282 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997); Metropolitan Dade County v. Section II Property Corp., 719 So. 2d 1204, 1205 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998); Miami-Dade County v. Walberg, 739 So. 2d 115, 117 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999); Marion County v. Priest, 786 So. 2d 623, 626-27 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001). Moreover, local citizens with first-hand knowledge of their communities are “as qualified as ‘expert witnesses’” to offer factual testimony on the impact of a proposal, where the facts offered are relevant to the applicable criteria. Board of County Comm’rs v. Clearwater, 440 So. 2d at 499.
Thus, citizens should freely participate and voice their concerns at quasi-judicial land-use hearings, but they should prepare thoroughly and carefully constrain their testimony to facts of which they have first-hand knowledge and that are relevant to the applicable criteria.  If they do so, local government fact-finders and decision-makers may confidently rely on citizens’ testimony as competent and substantial evidence to support their findings and judgments.   

Monday, January 6, 2014

Corporate Counsel: Is It Time To Strengthen Your Employee Handbook?

By Dee Anna Hays and Caren Skversky

How long has it been since you dusted off your company’s employee handbook?  Dedicating the time and resources to reviewing policies on an annual basis is well worth the investment.  Consider the following five areas during your 2014 review.

1.  Superfluous Language
Most employers have learned that including an at-will policy in the handbook reinforces the principle that employment may be terminated at any time for any lawful reason. Likewise, at-will policies should clarify that the handbook is not a contract, and employers may revise policies without prior notice. Equally, employers should beware of potential promises made by superfluous language. Unnecessary purpose statements, rigid progressive discipline steps, and unrealistic commitments to provide training or a mutually enjoyable work environment should be avoided. Gratuitous leave provisions may lead to Family and Medical Leave Act estoppel arguments. 

2.  Bullying
Twenty-five states have introduced legislation that makes workplace bullying illegal. A criminal statute related to bullying is currently pending in Florida. Employers should consider adding a separate policy to address bullying. This goal can often be accomplished with mutual respect policies, giving a clear definition of prohibited behavior and examples (while being mindful of the National Labor Relations Act).

3.  The National Labor Relations Board (Beyond Social Media)
Much ado has been made regarding the NLRB’s recent policing of social media policies. Yet, this inquiry extends to other policies. Many code of ethics, computer usage, and disciplinary policies may run afoul of the same principles scrutinized in social media policies. In recent decisions, the board has taken issue with dress-code policies that prevent employees from wearing insignia or messages on clothing and at-will policies that state the employment relationship may never be changed. The board has further made clear that employers cannot have a blanket requirement for employees to keep internal investigations confidential. A disclaimer may not save an otherwise defective policy.
4.  Timekeeping and Technology
Due to unrelenting litigation under the Fair Labor Standards Act, time-keeping and overtime policies should specifically prohibit employees from working off-the-clock. Policies should explain it is the employee’s responsibility to report pay errors and how to do so. A related consideration is a policy that addresses employees’ use of their own electronic devices (laptops, smartphones, and tablets) for work purposes. Policies should be crafted to address concerns regarding privacy, protection of confidential information, and working off-the-clock.

5.  Employee Acknowledgments
Employee acknowledgements evidence that employees have received the handbook, and they should be obtained each time the handbook is updated. The acknowledgement can be used to reiterate the at-will policy and to shift responsibility to the employees to raise any questions or concerns about the handbook or company policy. Also note that violations of any company policy, even one not identified in the handbook, can lead to discipline.

A well-drafted handbook is an essential foundation for handling difficult personnel and legal issues. Handbooks that require a complete overhaul may be best handled by legal counsel.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Community Services Committee Participates In Elves For Elders

By Lisa Esposito

The Elves for Elders was a huge success thanks to our legal community. The Community Services Committee adopted every elder on Aging Solution’s Elves for Elders gift list. That’s more than 250 elderly wards of the state! We also raised almost $7,000 for non-covered medical services such as dental and vision care. Thank you to every elf who donated, volunteered, or spread the word. We are making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate and changing negative opinions about our legal community!

To date, we have adopted every veteran on the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital’s hardship list, and now we have found an elf and placed presents under an elderly person’s tree/menorah for the holidays. Give yourself a pat on the back.

In November and December, we asked the community to adopt (be an elf) for a needy elderly person whose wish list was simple ― a shirt, socks, and maybe a teddy bear for when times got tough. One elderly man asked for a stuffed cat for his bed, and another requested a purple bunny with long ears. These wish lists brought tears to many people’s eyes as the lists encompassed basic necessities. Your response was overwhelming. Every elder found an elf, and that gray cat and purple bunny made the holidays brighter for those two particular elders! 

On December 21 and 22, CSC volunteers spent time at a nursing home, giving out gifts to elders on our list, passing out candy to every elder we met, donning an elf hat (or maybe even a pair of elf shoes), and singing holiday songs, whether in tune or not! Volunteers thought they were giving back, but they walked away realizing that they got much more. They remembered what the holidays are all about ― giving to others in need. I saw many smiles and a few tears, but I also saw a group of people who didn’t know each other come together, sing some songs, and smile at the joy they brought to people who are often forgotten that time of year.

In fact, one 90-year-old named Jose got out of a wheelchair to sing and dance to “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” because he got a new pair of sneakers that actually fit. He told us he hasn’t had shoes that fit in two years, but now he could get up and walk around to help others. He called us angels. I don’t know about angels, but we certainly made a difference in Jose’s life, and that is what the CSC is trying to do. 

If you couldn’t participate in Elves for Elders, no worries. In May, the CSC will work with a nonprofit organization for abused children, A Kid’s Place, where we hope to hold a pirate plunder party for these deserving kids. We need volunteers, donations, and sponsors for a bouncy house, lunch, games, and pirate plunder. Arrrg! Please help the CSC continue to make a difference. We can’t do it without you! Contact Lisa Esposito at or Lara LaVoie at

Lawyers Peter O. Knight And Cody Fowler Added To Riverwalk Monument Trail

By John F. Kynes

Two titans from Tampa’s legal community — Peter O. Knight and Cody Fowler — will be among other prominent city leaders memorialized along Tampa’s developing Riverwalk. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and attorney Steve Anderson, president of Friends of the Riverwalk, unveiled bronze busts of the two distinguished lawyers in front of family, friends, and local officials at a ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center in December.

The Class of 2013 honorees also includes newspaper publisher C. Blythe Andrews, civic leader Kate Jackson, Cuban civil rights leader Paulina Pedroso, and businessman G.D. Rogers. The statues are mounted on granite pedestals and will be placed in a permanent location along the Riverwalk’s Historical Monument Trail, which stretches along the downtown waterfront from the Channel District to Tampa Heights, just west of the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center.

“The trail allows us to remember and honor those who were so committed and dedicated to moving our community forward,” Buckhorn said.

Among their many accomplishments, both Knight and Fowler served as president of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, in 1904 and 1936, respectively.

“Our goal is to preserve and honor the local people who created a lasting impact on Tampa,” said Anderson, who heads the local nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk and is working in collaboration with the city of Tampa and the Tampa Bay History Center on the project.

The first group of honorees was selected in 2012, and the plan is to designate six new honorees each year until 30 or more historical monuments line the waterfront trail. To be considered, the honorees must have been dead for at least 15 years.

Knight moved to Tampa in 1889 and served as a Tampa City Council member and as Hillsborough County Solicitor. “At the turn of the 20th century, Peter O. Knight was probably the most influential lawyer and community leader in Hillsborough County,” said retired Appellate Judge E.J. Salcines, who is a member of the honoree selection committee.

Knight helped organize the Exchange National Bank, the Tampa Gas Company, and the city’s electric streetcar system. “[Knight] had his hands in everything, and he was integral in making Tampa a bigger and better place,” Salcines told me.

Additionally, Knight was a founding partner of what is now the international law firm of Holland & Knight. Tampa attorney William A. Knight, the great-grandson of Peter O. Knight, said about his relative: “He was a remarkable guy.  I am in awe of what he was able to accomplish.”

In 1924, Fowler moved from Tennessee to Tampa to practice law. His mother, Maud, helped found Temple Terrace, and Cody Fowler served as its first attorney and later as mayor for a term.

Fowler quickly made a name for himself early in his career by defending African-Americans in Tampa’s courts — something few other white attorneys were willing to do at the time. In 1943, he joined with Morris White to form the Fowler and White law firm. In 1950, Fowler was elected president of the American Bar Association — the first Tampa lawyer to attain that position.

“[Fowler] was the go-to guy for the bar association on major issues,” Salcines told me. “You always wanted Cody Fowler on your side.”

Appointed chairman of both Florida’s and Tampa’s Bi-Racial Commissions in 1959, Fowler, along with African-American leaders, helped guide the peaceful integration of Tampa’s lunch counters in 1960. His leadership on improving race relations continued through the turbulent 1960s as Tampa and the nation struggled with racial integration and other equality issues, such as the hiring practices of local businesses.

Fowler’s grandsons, Cody F. Davis and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, are both lawyers in Tampa. Jim Davis says people referred to Fowler as “Big Cody” and that he was inspired by Fowler’s example to “treat everyone with respect.”

“In his [Fowler’s] day, that meant standing up for equality among races,” Jim Davis said.

He added: “Big Cody took great joy in serving our community and helping his clients … and thought every lawyer should do his or her part to make their community a better place.”

See you around the Chet.