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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Jul. 15, 2005 16 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa)

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Secret settlement: Some nasty litigation between retired Tampa criminal defense attorney Anthony F. Gonzalez and Alabama-based Colonial BancGroup Inc.'s Colonial Bank unit has come to a merciful conclusion.Starved for attention, Al Pina is eating again.: The Tampa-based chairman of the Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition broke a 13-day fast on July 9 after SunTrust Banks Inc. reminded the news media that it has made $24 billion in loans to disadvantaged Florida borrowers since 2000.Tampa firm acquired: An old Chicago law firm, Arnstein & Lehr LLP, recently acquired the three-lawyer Tampa firm of Cohn & Cohn PA.Lawyer hid cash in ceiling: The Florida Supreme Court ordered the 91-day suspension of Tampa lawyer David S. Shankman for several rules violations, including his hiding of a $20,000 bonus from his former law partners. The suspension is effective next month.Fifth Third outreach: Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp has hired a Latina to direct its Florida bank's efforts to do more business with Hispanic clients.Not in Kansas: Federal Aviation Administration officials say Wichita, Kansas, was wrong to make revenue guarantees to AirTran Airways, calling them "unjust economic discrimination."
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Coffee Talk (Tampa)

Secret settlement

Some nasty litigation between retired Tampa criminal defense attorney Anthony F. Gonzalez and Alabama-based Colonial BancGroup Inc.'s Colonial Bank unit has come to a merciful conclusion.

Gonzalez, 59, filed suit in federal and state courts two years ago against Colonial, which earlier had bought a Tampa bank that he helped to found. Gonzalez, who became Colonial's Tampa Bay area chairman, claimed he was fired for telling the home office that regional chief executive Joseph V. Chillura was competing against Colonial on the side.

Chillura, 38, closed a finance company that he and another local Colonial banker operated within days of Gonzalez's disclosure to their bosses in Alabama.

But Colonial backed Chillura, who contended the dismissal was because Gonzalez was plotting to jump to a revitalized competitor for Bay area business. Gonzalez later became chairman of the rival Bank of St. Petersburg.

Pre-trial discovery in the lawsuits put much of the recent behind-the-scenes machinations in Colonial's local executive suites in the public record. It also detailed how Gonzalez found his way to Bank of St. Petersburg, which had been acquired by Tampa investor Robert Rothman.

Only one lawyer in the case contacted by the Gulf Coast Business Review was willing to offer any comment on last month's joint dismissal of the lawsuits. "The matter is resolved and we are pleased," says Ben H. Harris III of Miller Hamilton Snider & Odom LLC in Mobile, Ala., the lead attorney for Colonial.

Harris declined to say whether financial considerations figured in the settlement. In the federal suit, each party is bearing its own fees and costs, according to a joint stipulation for dismissal.

Starved for attention

Al Pina is eating again.

The Tampa-based chairman of the Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition broke a 13-day fast on July 9 after SunTrust Banks Inc. reminded the news media that it has made $24 billion in loans to disadvantaged Florida borrowers since 2000.

Pina's protest apparently prompted Thomas Kuntz, SunTrust's top Florida executive, to circulate a news release in which he was quoted thusly:

"This level of community-oriented lending not only compares favorably to that of other large banks, but is a clear indication of our continuing commitment to Florida's communities."

The Atlanta bank's news release noted that the bank wrote $1.7 billion in mortgages for low-income and moderate-income borrowers in Florida just in 2004.

Kuntz promises that SunTrust will make at least another $24 billion in additional loans of this type during the next five years.

Pina's coalition has previously pressured Bank of America and Wachovia Bank to make similar commitments.

Tampa firm acquired

An old Chicago law firm, Arnstein & Lehr LLP, recently acquired the three-lawyer Tampa firm of Cohn & Cohn PA.

Partners Vanessa Negron Cohn, Ronald B. Cohn and W. Patrick Ayers are now part of Arnstein & Lehr. They're joined by Robin S. Trupp, who opened Arnstein & Lehr's Tampa office last year.

The firm, with about 133 lawyers, also has offices in Boca Raton, Miami, West Palm Beach and Milwaukee.

Lawyer hid cash in ceiling

The Florida Supreme Court ordered the 91-day suspension of Tampa lawyer David S. Shankman for several rules violations, including his hiding of a $20,000 bonus from his former law partners. The suspension is effective next month.

In February 2000, a month before leaving the financially strapped firm of Newman, LeVine, Metzler and Shankman PA, Shankman settled a lawsuit for Dale Hatmaker for $195,000 and negotiated reduced fees of $40,000 for his firm. In turn, Hatmaker gave Shankman $20,000 in cash, which the lawyer later hid in the ceiling of his apartment.

Shankman, who's now with Shankman, Leone & Westerman PA, contended the money was a gift from a happy client. But the justices say the lawyer "took unfair advantage of a vulnerable, emotional person, dependent upon [Shankman] for advice and trust in a fiduciary relationship," according to the July 7 court order.

And they say he owed it to his firm to disclose the bonus.

The justices ruled the incident was part "a pattern of dishonest and unethical conduct that occurred consistently for at least three months" on the part of Shankman while the firm was flailing financially. They say Shankman's actions weren't justified even though the firm's managing partner used firm funds to pay alimony when the firm couldn't make payroll.

Fifth Third outreach

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp has hired a Latina to direct its Florida bank's efforts to do more business with Hispanic clients.

Jadira Hoptry will get the title of Latino affairs director and work from Fifth Third's Naples office. Fifth Third expanded its Florida presence earlier this year by taking over Naples-based First National Bank of Florida.

Hoptry comes to Southwest Florida from Indianapolis, where she was an assistant vice president for business development at Fifth Third. She received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Florida.

Not in Kansas

Federal Aviation Administration officials say Wichita, Kansas, was wrong to make revenue guarantees to AirTran Airways, calling them "unjust economic discrimination." But Sarasota Bradenton International Airport President/CEO Fred Piccolo says the Sarasota-Manatee subsidy to AirTran isn't comparable.

The FAA says Wichita violated one of the rules in its Airport Improvement Program funding pact with the federal government when it offered revenue guarantees only to AirTran, a discount airline. Delta Air Lines, which requested the federal inquiry, argued the subsidies should be applied equally. To protest, Delta cut seven of its daily flights from Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

Piccolo says the Wichita case just doesn't fit with SRQ's $4 million subsidy to AirTran.

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