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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Apr. 23, 2004 18 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

This week's items: Delano Stewart accepted this year's Herb Goldberg Award David Russell Stahl talks about $18 million jury verdictTECO Energy Inc. faces role reversal in current caseBrothers' favorite

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Goldberg Award for Stewart

Local civil-rights pioneer Delano Stewart accepted this year's Herb Goldberg Award at an April 16 luncheon of the Hillsborough County Bar Association's trial lawyers section.

Fellow Tampa lawyer Herb Berkowitz introduced the 68-year-old Stewart with effusive praise. Berkowitz says Stewart has a personal policy of never taking more from a settlement than the client's share, even when Stewart was legally entitled to it.

"I don't know if Herb is trying to bribe me," joked Stewart, when it was his turn. "I'm currently litigating against his wife."

Probably not, for Stewart's accomplishments are numerous. He was the city's first black public defender and he has mentored six attorneys who went on to become judges.

The ultimate jurors

David Russell Stahl, the subject of a recent GCBR profile, has been in the news for mostly the wrong reasons during the past three years.

But the Tampa personal-injury attorney thinks we should have focused more attention on a client's recent $18 million jury verdict than on his own 2001 arrest on child-sex charges.

Stahl, who is still waiting for his criminal trial, sent over to Coffee Talk a first-person account from client Ramiro Campanioni of the ordeal that led to the civil award earlier this year.

Campanioni, 41, a native of Ybor City, was critically injured in 1996 when a Tampa water truck rammed into his bicycle on East Hillsborough Avenue. "My doctor testified that my legs had been torn apart like the wishbone of a chicken," writes Campanioni.

But Campanioni says Stahl put on a deliberately sterile case. "In closing argument, Russ was careful not to inflame the jury," writes Campanioni. "He was thinking about the Legislature."

Florida cities are generally liable for a maximum of only $100,000 in damages resulting from such court judgments. State lawmakers must approve a local bill to exceed the ceiling.

Stahl wasn't quite so restrained outside of the courtroom. "Look at what they did," he told Coffee Talk, referring to city officials. "It's a form of organized crime."

Coal case

The best-known subsidiary of TECO Energy Inc. champions open government and transparency in corporate affairs? A purported consumer group flacks for Big Business?

That's the possible role reversal emerging from a bitter regulatory case before the Florida Public Service Commission.

Tampa Electric Co. has been on the defensive since PSC staffers joined consumer groups to question the utility's decision to award to a TECO transport subsidiary a contract to carry coal from the Midwest to its Gulf Coast plants.

Critics, including something called the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, say the contract amounts to self-dealing and may be inflated to boost TECO profitability after a disastrous foray into wholesale energy. Last October, the federation demanded that Tampa Electric disclose the entire contract to ensure that ratepayers weren't propping up TECO finances.

Now, Tampa Electric's lawyer, James D. Beasley of Ausley & McMullen PA in Tallahassee, has what must be the distinct pleasure of calling the Consumer Federation of the Southeast out from the shadows.

In an April 19 PSC filing, Beasley claims the federation and its chief legal counsel, Michael B. Twomey, are funded by competitors of TECO Transport Corp. that wanted the coal-shipping contract.

"We believe that Mr. Twomey, the nominal intervenors' attorney, may in fact directly or indirectly represent one or more suppliers of coal or coal transportation services which otherwise may not have standing to participate in this proceeding," writes Beasley.

Pulling the strings behind the scenes, according to Beasley, is Ron Sachs, a veteran PR operative in the state capital working with the coal shippers.

The federation's executive director, Walter Dartland, a former deputy state attorney general, has solicited cash for the federation from CSX Transportation Inc. and other losing bidders on the Tampa Electric coal contract. "The bottom line is consumer organizations have failed to make a dent in a lot of these issues because they're improperly funded," Dartland tells the Associated Press.

Beasley still wants the federation to come clean. "Florida prides itself on doing business 'in the sunshine,' " the Tampa Electric lawyer writes to the PSC. "In these days of nightly press reports of murky corporate intrigue and questionable business practices, transparency in business is gaining new respect."

Brothers' favorite

Apparently Gov. Jeb Bush's confidence in state appellate Judge Virginia Maria Hernandez Covington had a substantial influence on his big brother. On April 20, the Congressional Record reported that President George Bush nominated the 2nd District Court of Appeal judge to replace U.S. Judge Ralph W. Nimmons Jr., who died last year. The governor appointed Covington, 48, to her current job in 2001.

If approved by the U.S. Senate, the Tampa native would replace a judge who served in the Jacksonville division of the Middle District of Florida. Federal judgeships are lifetime appointments.

Covington received a bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Tampa, and a law degree from Georgetown University.

Off again, on again?

With little debate, the Tampa City Council recently extended the application deadline for attorneys interested in a newly proposed job as city council attorney.

Interested candidates now have until May 6, but they'll be competing against proposals already submitted by 37 candidates. It is unclear why the council postponed the earlier April 15 deadline.

But the action comes just as former GrayRobinson PA attorney David Smith takes control as Mayor Pam Iorio's appointed full-time city attorney.

In a March 5 interview. Smith told GCBR he met with each of the city council members in an effort to assure them he would represent their interests just as vigorously as Iorio's.

"The city attorney is not the mayor's attorney," he said. "He represents the mayor, the council, the department heads and all the employees."

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