A Bulldog and a Builder
With his tenacity, courage, determination, Terrence Russell is known as a bulldog in the courtroom. “Terry is a street fighter,” said his wife Mary Kay in a 2001 interview. “He doesn’t back away from confrontation — ever.”
And Russell is also a builder, who helped lead one of Broward’s most successful firms before becoming managing shareholder of the Fort Lauderdale office of Fowler White Boggs P.A. in 2010. “It was an honor to be chosen for this important role,” says Russell. ““It’s been a marvelous experience helping to build this office.”
Recognized nationally as a commercial litigator, Russell is double board certified in civil trial and business litigation. He specializes in complex commercial cases, including foreclosures, antitrust, securities and product liability defense. He currently represents Anheuser-Busch and CBS Outdoor, and has represented General Motors, Nissan, BMW, 3M Corporation, Merrill Lynch and other Fortune 500 companies.
Growing up in Jacksonville, Russell played football in high school, and worked at his father’s gas station. When he was 16 years old, a white middle-aged man pulled into the gas station with younger black woman in his car — an unusual occurrence in Jacksonville in 1960. “She looked a little scared,” Russell recalls. “I wrote down his license plate number because he gave me a check for the gas.”
Later, the woman filed an assault charge and local police detectives interviewed Russell about what turned out to be a case of statutory rape.” The case went to trial twice, and Russell testified as a key witness. “I really liked the court system and decided I wanted to be a trial lawyer,” he says. “That’s when I decided to seriously explore a legal career, and that’s what I’ve done ever since then.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida, Russell in 1968 became a member of the first graduating class at Florida State University’s College of Law. “It was a remarkable class,” he says. “I believe it was the only class where 100 percent of the members passed the bar.”
With law degree in hand, Russell drove down to South Florida with his wife to work as a federal law clerk in the Southern District of Florida. “We planned to stay here a year and then head back to North Florida afterwards, but things didn’t work out that way.” In 1970, Russell turned down an offer from Fowler White Boggs to join a smaller local firm, Ruden Barnett. He stayed with the firm for 40 years, eventually becoming a name partner.
In 1978, as an associate with the firm, Russell handled a pivotal case for Nova University (now Nova Southeastern University or NSU). A trust set up by insurance millionaire Leo Goodwin, Sr., had refused to turn over a $14.5 million bequest, which the university needed to put its financial affairs in order. Russell spent three years on the case, assisted only by a paralegal, going up against a large team of litigators. But Russell won the case, which provided funds for Nova to construct a new law center, rather than hold classes in various facilities around the campus, and achieve full accreditation from the American Bar Association.
“Terry saved the university,” said Abraham Fischler, who was Nova’s president at the time, in a 2001 interview. “Not only do I think highly of his legal skills, but also of him as a man. He is ethical and he loves the law.” Eventually, Nova collected $20 million, Russell became a name partner at the firm, and the defendant, who was also an attorney, was disbarred.
Today, Russell handles what he calls “bet the farm” litigation for his business clients across the nation, including securities, antitrust and contract-related issues. “I don’t get to try too many cases these days,” he says. “Most companies would rather quantify their risk and settle a case.”
But with his competitive spirit and trial skills, Russell clearly enjoys being in the courtroom. “When you represent a corporate defendant, you have to look at every aspect of a case,” he says. “You need a solid presentation of the facts and a strong view and understanding of the law to overcome any inherent biases toward the plaintiff.”
As an experienced trial lawyer, Russell knows that process begins with the selection of the jury, and he tries to get a commitment from the jurors to look at the case fairly. “I believe in the jury system,” Russell says. “There are a lot of complex cases that can be hard for a jury to grasp. So you have to work harder to present the case in a way that’s clear and understandable. One approach is to present the case graphically or through really solid testimony so the jurors understand the case.”
Russell has passed along his trial skills to younger lawyers throughout his career. He is an active member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, The American Inns of Court and Litigation Counsel of America.
Russell is also a staunch believer in the pro bono system. “I believe volunteer service is one of our responsibilities as professionals,” he says. “Our justice system doesn’t work if it can’t serve everybody.”
In pursuit of that goal, Russell was an effective advocate for the state’s legal services programs while serving as president of The Florida Bar in 2001-02. His primary leadership goal was convincing the Florida Legislature to provide some state funding to support the delivery of legal services to the poor. “Florida was one of only 11 states that didn’t support legal services, and those programs had to rely on donor contributions and grants,” he says. “We were successful in getting the bill through the Legislature, where it passed almost unanimously, and obtained $2 million in first-year funding. It was a privilege to be invited to the bill signing ceremony with Governor Jeb Bush.”
Russell was honored as “outstanding past voluntary bar president” by the Florida Council of Bar Association Presidents. A fellow of the American Bar Foundation, Russell was president of The Florida Bar Foundation in 2005. He also received the 2008 medal of honor from The Florida Bar Foundation for his leadership in securing passage of state funding for legal aid services.
When not talking to clients or appearing in court, Russell had two very different hobbies. “When I was younger, I enjoyed growing roses, and also building and flying radio-controlled airplanes,” he says. “I’ve been so busy in the past few years, that it’s been hard to find the time for them. Now, Mary Kay and I enjoy time with our family and with our golden retrievers.”
The Russells recently celebrated their 45th anniversary. They have two children, Cristine, who is an attorney in Jacksonville, and Greg, a family practice physician in Charlotte, N.C., and two grandchildren.
Russell started a new chapter in his professional life in 2010 when he joined Fowler White Boggs, a Tampa-based firm with five statewide offices. “Aside from the bar presidency, joining this firm has been the most satisfying experience of my career,” he says. “I have come full circle since the start of my career. There are great people here, I’m enjoying helping to build the team.”
In September, longtime Fort Lauderdale firm Atkinson, Diner, Stone, Mankuta & Ploucha, P.A., announced it was merging with Fowler White Boggs. On the announcement, Jesse Diner, managing shareholder of Atkinson and also a former president of The Florida Bar, said, “Our firms have known and respected one another for years, and we could not be happier to call each other partners. This is a great fit.”
When the merger is completed in the first half of 2012, Fowler White Boggs will have about 30 attorneys in Fort Lauderdale, a substantial increase from the five attorneys when Russell came aboard. “This combination really gives us the people, connections and capabilities we need to fully serve the top tier of the South Florida market,” Russell says. “We expect to continue growing together as a general service commercial firm and we have a bright future in Fort Lauderdale.”
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