Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky & Abate
From the Capitol to the Courthouse
|Partners Maria Abate, Mike Colodny (Sitting), Joel Fass, |
Howard Talenfeld and Fred Karlinsky.
With its coordinated approach to regulatory, transactional, litigation and governmental consulting, Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate lives up to its slogan: “From the Capitol to the Courthouse.”
Known as one of Florida’s top lobbying firms, Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate provides creative solutions to complex regulatory, administrative, commercial, governmental and litigation matters. The 35-year-old full-service law firm now has 23 attorneys in its Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee offices.
“Through the years, we have built a national and international practice right here in South Florida,” says partner Howard Talenfeld. “Our work has impacted insurance laws and regulations, state social services programs and child advocacy laws in Florida and across the country.”
The firm was founded in 1976 when Michael Colodny and Joel Fass — now managing partner — opened an office on Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami. “That was long before the days of cell phones or even fax machines,” says Colodny, whose background was government relations. In contrast, Fass had been a district attorney in Brooklyn and was developing a criminal defense practice. Today, Fass focuses on personal injury, commercial litigation and civil rights, and has served as a special prosecutor and counsel for governmental entities.
“I joined the firm in 1981 as the young, aggressive litigator,” says Talenfeld. “We’ve been like family ever since.” In his litigation practice, Talenfeld has handled different types of complex cases. For instance, he successfully represented the Town of Golden Beach in a lawsuit against an Aventura high-rise development that would have cast an afternoon shadow on their beachside single-family homes.
The other two name partners are also longtime members of the firm. Fred Karlinsky, who is also an internationally recognized insurance law and governmental consulting specialist, arrived in the early 1990s, and Maria Elena Abate, who handles civil rights claims, class action litigation, employment law, governmental affairs and insurance matters, joined in 1992. Partner Richard J. Fidei also works in the Insurance regulatory practice area and is considered a national figure in the industry.
The firm opened a Tallahassee office in 1998 for its regulatory, legislative and government relations practices. Katherine Scott Webb, the firm’s Tallahassee partner, was recently voted the “outstanding lobbyist” by the Florida Insurance Counsel. Currently, the firm also represents public clients like the School Board of Broward County, Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.
Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate has been involved in state and federal regulatory work since its earliest days. In the 1980s, Colodny focused much of his practice on bank formations and regulations. He assisted in the formation of Gibraltar Savings and Loan and First State Bank, and represented First American Bank holding company.
In addition, Colodny became involved in the insurance regulatory field, and represented the state Department of Insurance in the late 1980s. “We were chasing the assets of insolvent insurance companies for the state in order to pay their claimants,” he says.
That process reached a climax in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida, causing upwards of $20 billion in damage. Immediately after the hurricane, 26 insurance companies folded or said they would stop writing policies, according to Colodny. State Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher realized that a collapse of the homeowners insurance market would affect the state’s real estate and mortgage industries as well. In the next legislative session, Gallagher introduced a bill to create the Florida Residential Property and Casualty Association Joint Underwriting Agreement (known as the JUA) as the insurer of last resort.
“The JUA was instrumental in saving Florida’s real estate market,” says Colodny, who was appointed as general counsel, a role that continued until 2005, after the JUA had become Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. He also helped the state close on several bond issues that raised billions of dollars to support the insurance fund. “We convinced the money center banks that this risk was well underwritten and that Florida had the capacity to pay,” Colodny says. “As a result, the JUA became the prototype for the California Earthquake Authority, a Hawaiian tsunami fund and other state programs that provide coverage against potentially catastrophic events.”
An international publication that covers insurance and reinsurance issues, Reactions Magazine, has recognized Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate for several years as one of the top insurance law firms and superior to substantially larger peers, as recognized by survey respondents.
But in October 2005, the firm had to deal with its own hurricane experience. Hurricane Wilma blew out windows in the firm’s building (the old Landmark building), which closed for 60 days. “This was the oldest high rise in downtown Fort Lauderdale,” says Talenfeld.
“The construction allowed the wind to come down inside the curtain wall and blow out the windows on the lower floors,” says Colodny.
Another key practice area for the firm is advocacy work on behalf of the state’s vulnerable children and adults. That began in 1988 when Talenfeld received a call to represent Governor Robert Martinez and Secretary Gregory Coler. The state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) had tried to close down an assisted living facility (ALF). However, the case had backfired. After winning a trial to stay open, the ALF had filed a motion to hold the governor in contempt after he allegedly violated a court order enjoining the state not to interfere with its business.
Talenfeld was called in to defend the governor and secretary in the matter. “When I reviewed the case, I saw some new angles that had been overlooked,” he recalls. “There had been a flow of drugs into the facility and I had found a number of judgments against the facility, raising serious questions as to its financial soundness. Within 30 days of our firm getting involved, the ALF surrendered its license and dropped the lawsuit.”
Since then, Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate has served as outside defense counsel for two other governors, two department secretaries and defended the state in class action litigation over foster care, mental health, food stamps and other healthcare issues. Referring to a case with Governor Lawton Chiles in 1992, Talenfeld says, “Our goal was to protect the sovereignty of the State of Florida from federal court supervision, while fixing the system for vulnerable adults and children who needed assistance.”
Drawing on that experience, Talenfeld became chair of the National Association of State Mental Health Lawyers Class Action Committee, where he advocated how the other states besieged by class action litigation could defend their sovereignty by improving services. ‘Because Florida had all its social service agencies under one umbrella agency, I handled all the class actions and understood those relationships,” he says. “That’s why I’ve been able to provide guidance on helping to protect the vulnerable persons in other state systems.”
Today, Talenfeld is still an advocate for improving the Florida’s social services, working to protect the rights of foster children, the disabled and people with mental health problems. “We were successful in almost tripling the budget for Broward County’s foster care system,” he says.
In 2002, Talenfeld founded a nonprofit, Florida’s Children First, which focuses on raising awareness of child welfare issues. “I wanted to create a unified voice so the child advocates in Florida could all work together,” he says. “Ten years later, we’ve been able to impact the laws on foster care, education, independent living and their rights to counsel and even their records.
One of the firm’s most effective advocates for foster children was Tracey K. McPharlin, whose work helped protect children who are sexually abused in foster care. After McPharlin passed away in 2010, the firm helped create an initiative called the McPharlin Project to continue her legacy by recruiting pro bono lawyers in Broward County to represent foster children.
Many other members of the firm are active in civic and non-profit causes. Colodny has served as city councilman and mayor of the City of North Miami, city attorney for Golden Beach and special counsel for the City of South Miami. He also earned the Carrie Meek Award for his efforts to promote community education in Miami-Dade County.
In Fort Lauderdale, Fass started “President’s Fest in the Park,” bringing 50,000 or more people together for a day of fun at Markham Park, while raising $1 million for charity causes. Karlinsky and his wife endowed the Karlinsky Family Scholarship at Florida State University College of Law, which provides support to incoming law students. Abate has become a leader in raising funds for the Women’s Breast Health Initiative so its mobile vans can visit underserved Broward neighborhoods and provide free mammogram screenings. Giving back to the community — and supporting each other’s work — are among the core values at Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate. “That’s what’s been driving force behind this firm,” says Talenfeld, “and today, you can see the results.”
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