Clarke Silverglate, P.A.
Defending Corporate America
|Spencer Silverglate and Bud Clarke|
Mercer K. “Bud” Clarke and Spencer H. Silverglate are always prepared to defend their clients in a courtroom. “We represent clients involved in high-stakes litigation,” says Clarke, president and shareholder of Miami-based Clarke Silverglate, P.A., which he co-founded with Spencer Silverglate, managing shareholder in 1993.
“Our clients rely on us for advice on when to go to trial and when to settle a case,” says Clarke, who has tried more than 100 cases. “We handle state and federal matters at both the trial and appellate levels, and we understand how courts differ around the state.”
For more than 21 years, Clarke Silverglate, P.A. has represented corporate clients in litigation throughout Florida, including complex commercial disputes, product liability, employment matters, personal injury, mass torts, class actions, and white-collar criminal defense.
“We’ve handled many ‘bet the company’ cases, including mass torts and major product liability litigation,” says Silverglate, who successfully defended a $1 billion commercial case in a recent arbitration.. “Today, less than 2 percent of cases are tried to conclusion,” says Silverglate. “The ones that do go to trial tend to be cases with high damages and questionable liability. Those are the cases clients call on us to take to trial.”
Attorneys for the Defense
Back in 1970, Clarke began his 43-year legal career as an attorney working with former U.S. Senator George Smathers at Smathers & Thompson, later becoming a partner and senior partner. The firm merged with Kelley Drye & Warren in 1987.
A year later, Clarke hired Silverglate, a Miami native and fellow University of Florida law school graduate. “ In 1992, I began thinking about getting into an environment where I had more control over my practice,” Clarke says. “I was at an airport in Jacksonville with Spencer after a hearing. When I told him my plans, Spencer said, "When are we going?"
On June 14, 1993, Clarke and Silverglate rented a small office, loaded Clarke’s white Bronco with files, and launched their own firm with one paralegal/manager. Initially, the firm focused on defending product liability cases, particularly pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers — a longtime practice area for Clarke. He obtained a summary judgment, affirmed ultimately by the Florida Supreme Court, holding that a pharmaceutical manufacturer’s warning about adverse reactions could be deemed adequate as a matter of law if it was accurate, clear and unambiguous. He also obtained a summary judgment, affirmed on appeal, holding for the first time in Florida that the benefit of a prescription drug outweighed its risk as a matter of law, even in a death case.
In the past two decades, the firm has grown to a dozen lawyers and multiple support personnel handling all types of high-stakes civil and criminal litigation. Partner Karen Curtis focuses on appellate matters and provides litigation support. Partner David Weinstein, a former assistant U.S. attorney, leads the criminal defense team, which now includes New York attorney Bonnie S. Klapper, also a former federal prosecutor.
Partner Wesley R. Parsons has been an effective advocate in defense of the citrus canker eradication program, operated jointly by the State of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1995 through 2006. He obtained reversal of a $19.2 million jury verdict against the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, arguing that the trial judge had erred in barring scientific evidence in the damages phase of the 2011 class action trial in Palm Beach County.
Recently, Silverglate represented a hospital pharmacy that was named in a medical malpractice suit against a surgeon who had injected the wrong drug into a patient’s spine, leaving her partially paralyzed. While the patient ultimately received a $38 million award, the pharmacy didn’t have to pay damages. “The appellate court said the pharmacy had no duty to tell a doctor how to practice medicine,” he said.
Leaders in Law and the Community
Although Clarke Silverglate is a small firm, its partners are leaders in the legal community. Silverglate serves as president of the Florida Association of Managing Partners, and is a past president of the Florida Defense Lawyers Association.
In October, Francisco Ramos Jr., administrative partner, was elected to the board of directors of the Defense Research Institute (DRI), and Silverglate was appointed Chair of its Employment and Labor Law Committee.
Clarke was a board member of the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC) and a faculty member at the IADC Trial Academy. He is a past president of the Miami-Dade County Defense Bar Association. Silverglate was recently named Director of the 2015 IADC Trial Academy, which is one of the oldest programs in the country for developing defense trial advocacy skills. “Bud and I have enjoyed teaching trial skills at this ‘boot camp’ for young lawyers,” Silverglate says.
Understanding how to try a case is particularly important for corporate defense attorneys, because the jury’s initial sympathy is usually on the side of the plaintiff in personal injury and other liability cases, says Silverglate. “It’s our job as lawyers to defuse the sympathy factor so jurors can make their decision based on the facts of the case, rather than emotions.”
Clarke says many cases are won or lost during the jury selection process, which is one of the least-understood aspects of a trial. “You are not going to change someone’s deep-seated beliefs, so you have to choose jurors who are committed to keeping an open mind,” he says. “I think we are as good as anyone in achieving that goal.”
Clarke Silverglate’s attorneys are also involved in a variety of pro bono community and civic causes. For instance, Oshia Gainer Banks was selected as Big Sister of the Year 2014 by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami, and other firm members have been active in children’s organizations.
On a personal level, Silverglate says much of his spare time is devoted to religious and humanitarian activities including mission trips to Haiti and Cuba. He recently published a book, “Fight the Good Fight,” with lessons and advice to his son.
Looking to the future of the law firm, Silverglate says, “We are always looking for top candidates who are leaders in the profession and the community. We plan to keep growing and stay focused on our core strengths in defense litigation.”