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South Florida Legal Guide - 2011 Edition

As one of South Florida's leading bankruptcy attorneys, John Genovese sees the financial consequences of bad business decisions, grandiose spending and pure human greed. "I find real life far more interesting and unbelievable than any novel," says Genovese, who leads the reorganization and insolvency practice at Genovese Joblove & Battista, P.A., Miami. "Bankruptcy court is full of stories of fraud and intrigue, as well as hard-working business owners who are victims of the long recession."

Genovese has more than 30 years of experience in helping clients in bankruptcy matters. He was co-counsel for the class action shareholders and noteholders in Enron's Chapter 11 proceeding and related matters, which resulted in settlements in excess of $7.2 billion, the largest class-action recovery ever.  He was retained by the lead plaintiff in its Countrywide Securities class action, which was recently settled for $600 million, the largest securities class action settlement as a result of the recent mortgage crisis.

He also represents the trustees on behalf of defrauded investors in the national Ponzi schemes involving Orlando music producer Lou Pearlman and Scott Rothstein, former Fort Lauderdale attorney. "I like the complexity of these criminal cases," he says. "Ultimately, they revolve around greed."

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Herbert Stettin, the trustee in the Rothstein Ponzi case, calls Genovese an exceptional bankruptcy lawyer. "He's an experienced aggressive litigator, who thinks like a businessman as well as a trial lawyer."
Genovese's practice also includes restructuring, a collaborative process between the creditors who want to be paid and a company that wants to stay in business. For instance, he and his firm represented the creditors in the 2007 bankruptcy of Florida homebuilder Levitt & Sons, a successor to the original developer of Levittown, the first planned suburb, founded in 1924 by Abraham Levitt along with his sons.

"There is no stigma now to filing," he says. "Bankruptcy has gone from being the last resort to a business planning device that a company can consider as a strategic alternative to other options. It can be an effective means of maximizing the value of the business for owners and creditors."

Born in 1949, Genovese spent his teen years living on a 160-year-old farm in Millbrook, N,Y., a village near the Hudson River that is now a second home for many entertainment celebrities. After graduating from high school, Genovese was drafted and served in the U.S. Army from 1968-1971. He enrolled in a community college and then earned a bachelor's degree in business from Siena College near Albany. "I was a late bloomer who wasn't sure what I wanted to do," he says. "One of the guys in my dorm was talking about law school, and since I had been an MP [military police officer in the service, I decided to take the LSAT, too." Genovese was accepted at Ohio Northern University and earned his law degree in 1979.

Wanting to live in a warmer climate, Genovese came to Florida, taking a job as law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Norman C. Roettger in Fort Lauderdale. "I then joined a small firm, but found I didn't like the day-to-day litigation work," he says. "The dean of Miami's bankruptcy bar, Irving Wolf, had just had a heart attack, he needed some help and there weren't a lot of bankruptcy lawyers in Miami at that time who could handle complex cases. We started taking those cases, and that really opened the door for my career."

Soon, Genovese joined Wolf at Holland & Knight, and spent the next 20 years practicing bankruptcy law for large firms, eventually becoming co-chair of Kelley Drye & Warren's national bankruptcy practice in the late 1990s."Even though our practice was growing and we had about a dozen lawyers, operating a satellite office in South Florida for a New York firm was not working out well for us," he says.

On April 1, 1999, Genovese and his group joined a small firm in which Michael Joblove was a name partner and formed what is now known as Genovese Joblove & Battista, P.A. Since then, the firm has grown from 18 to 40 U.S. attorneys with offices in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. In 2010, the firm opened a 15-attorney affiliate office in Caracas.
"As a smaller firm, we have been able to take an entrepreneurial approach to our practice," says Genovese. "That's allowed us to be more agile and take advantage of new opportunities."

Today, Genovese's practice includes troubled loan workouts, insurance insolvencies, providing insolvency counsel in class action and mass tort litigation and other complex commercial litigation. "Whether you are trying to resolve a business's problems or recover funds for creditors, you have to act rapidly and efficiently," he says. "There is a built-in urgency to these cases, and many times the court imposes deadlines to expedite the process. Therefore, you have to understand what is important and be a good negotiator to resolve things quickly."

While the law firm does not handle consumer bankruptcies, Genovese has represented several developers in working out accommodations with lenders that avoid personal bankruptcy. "In today's climate, most creditors have been reasonable in their expectations," he says. "That's fortunate because there are many honest and ethical entrepreneurs who have fallen victim to the market."

A frequent lecturer on bankruptcy and creditors' rights issues, Genovese is director of the Florida Fiduciary Forum and co­authored "Rash Ruling Should Not Affect Chapter 11 Valuations" and "Breakout the D&O Policy," in the National Law Journal. He was appointed by U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez to serve on the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, which recommends candidates for U.S. Attorney and Federal District Court Judges.
"John is a dedicated lawyer with a very good team of people," says Jim Feltman, senior managing director, Mesirow Financial Consulting, New York. "He takes his work seriously and every case gets the attention it deserves. Every matter that we have hired him for has been resolved in a satisfactory manner."

In the 1990s,Genovese met his wife Lauren, who was working as a forensic accountant in the Southeast Bank bankruptcy case. They married and now have 6-year-old twins, Stefan and Alessandra. Active in civic circles, Lauren Genovese is a board member of Kristi House, which fights against child sexual abuse, and former president of the Junior League of Miami, a community service organization, and is an active fundraiser on behalf of several non-profit organizations. She is being honored in December by the local chapter of the March of Dimes with a Humanitarian Award.

Genovese himself serves on the University of Miami's Citizens Board and the Dean's Circle, his firm endowed a scholarship at the law school and he also created a scholarship at Siena College, with both scholarships giving preference to armed forces veterans. He serves on the alumni board of his law school. Genovese is discussing a networking program at Florida International University for veterans of the armed forces. "The service gave me an opportunity to grow up," he says, "and I'd like to return the favor."

To unwind from his practice, Genovese works out and plays tennis regularly. "I really enjoy the physical competition," he says. "I played basketball in community college, but that seems like a long time ago."

He reads extensively, primarily about history and social issues. He's currently re­reading William Manchester's book, "The Glory and the Dream," about the U.S. from 1932 to 1972. "It really provides a great context for understanding where we are today," he says.

With two young children, Genovese says he plans to keep growing his practice and the firm. "As a small, entrepreneurial firm, we have lots of options, including opening other South American offices in the future," he says. "Personally, I'm going to continue to represent my clients to the best of my ability in these challenging financial cases."

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