Are Attorneys Trying To Hold

Florida’s Condo Population Hostage?

An Opinion By Jan Bergemann

Published June 20, 2005

Business as usual:  Whatever condo owners like – specialized attorneys seem to hate!  This was again very obvious when a reporter from the Miami Herald interviewed condo owners and attorneys in order to write an article about Florida’s new Condo Ombudsman, Virgil Rizzo.

Please read the finished product here:

The critics as usual:  The attorneys from the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, often hiding behind an organization called CALL -- Community Association Leadership Lobby.  It’s clearly a lobbying group for the specialized attorneys, supported by some board members, who obviously rather like to side with service providers than with their own neighbors!  Maybe the pastures are greener for them on the other side of the fence?  Despite Donna Berger’s statement that the law firm helped to draft the wording of the bill, people are still wondering WHY that same law firm opposed the bill that created that office?  CALL and CAI were the strongest opponents of the bill that conceived the creation of this office -- House Bill 1223, sponsored by Representative Julio Robaina.  This bill also created the Condo Advisory Council, which CALL also opposed.  In this case the attorneys changed their tactic:  "If you can't beat them, join them to covertly plot for their demise”? That’s what we are obviously seeing in the moment!

Other members of the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff had already made up their minds about the condo ombudsman before he really started to work.  On February 11, 2005 Ellen Hirsch de Haan, another shareholder of the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, spoke at the 26th Annual CAI Law Seminar in New Orleans.  She claimed that the new Florida Ombudsman is a “disaster” and “is about to be kicked out”!

Criticism before giving him a chance?

And then there is Joe Adams, another shareholder of the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff and well-known critic of all consumer–friendly reforms.  I’m still wondering who helped to make Adams the chairman of the Condo Advisory Council?  In my opinion, it plainly defeated the purpose of this Council.  Adams has enough to do to right his own sinking ship.  Criticism about the way he is running the Council is getting stronger and stronger.  Last week one condo owner mailed an official complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics.  Main complaint:  Chairman Adams is using his position on the Condo Advisory Council to further his personal interests.  Conflict of interest is definitely a BIG issue!

Please don’t forget that the Condo Advisory Council had been created to “hear public input regarding issues of concern with respect to condominiums and recommendations for changes in the condominium law.” So far very little time has been spent by the Council to do just what it was supposed to do.  Most of the time the discussion at the meetings revolved around bills of special interest to the attorneys on the Council.  And since Florida’s unit owners are paying the costs of the Council, these owners think that the Council should take care of their concerns – not make this Council a tool to serve special interests.  Chairman Adams should make sure that the Council is doing what it is supposed to do, according to the statutes:  Work for the welfare of the owners – not take on the unsolicited task of criticizing other offices.

Estimated 50% of the public speakers that will come with concerns in front of the Condo Advisory Council will live in condos that have the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff on retainer.  Many will ask for changes to stop abuses in just these condos.  That would directly, financially concern the law firm.  Conflict of interest for Chairman Adams?

Please don’t forget the reason that law firms try to protect the sitting board by all means -- The board signs the retainer contract!  Who knows what a new board will do?  Don’t forget:  Many successful recalls cause a change of hired attorneys, because many owners think that the attorneys are part of the ousted board’s shortcomings!

Adams states that Governor Jeb Bush will be the final judge about the ombudsman, since ''He serves at the governor's pleasure.''  Good argument, but last not least Governor Jeb Bush has been elected by Florida’s citizens to serve for THEIR welfare -- not the interest of about 200 specialized attorneys.  These specialized attorneys fear that their income may decrease, if the Ombudsman Office successfully solves problems and reaches compromises before some “juicy” lawsuits can be filed.  That is the reason for the bickering of these attorneys, who are definitely not interested in making our condos a peaceful environment.  They are serving the welfare of their own wallets – not the welfare of the condo owners!

One thing is pretty obvious:  Our Florida legislators – House Representatives and Senators – have already made a clear statement. They plainly favor the work of the Ombudsman and hope he will succeed. They are as well sick and tired of all the complaints of their constituents who call their offices to seek help from abuses. The recent approval of the new budget for the Ombudsman Office was definitely a clear statement of confidence in Rizzo’s work and the hope for even better things to come!  Without the intrusion of specialized attorneys!

Many of our legislators either contact the Ombudsman Office to obtain help for their constituents or they advise their constituents to directly contact that office.  And many can be helped!

It seems that about 200 specialized attorneys are trying to hold hostage Florida’s condo population -- more than 2 million citizens. Our elected officials have to realize that these specialized attorneys have only one selfish reason for their opposition to any reforms or anything that would help to stop the many problems in our associations:  THEIR OWN INCOME!