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Splitting the Pie

An accomplished cook, Mindy A. Mora knows how to slice up a homemade apple pie for friends and family members.   After all, Mora does the same thing as a bankruptcy attorney, dividing up a company’s assets for creditors — even when there are only a few pieces left.
“Ultimately, bankruptcy is about figuring out how to take less than 100 percent and redistribute those assets among competing claimants,” says Mora, a partner at Bilzin Sumberg in Miami who focuses her practice on creditor’s rights, workouts, bankruptcy and commercial loan transactions.

A longtime leader in The Florida Bar Business Law Section, Mora has also played a major role in the development of Florida’s commercial laws. She chaired the Florida Bar Task Force that sponsored the 2007 revisions of the Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors Statute, and co-sponsored the 1997 revisions to Article 8 and 1999 revisions to Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code.
Referring to the 2007 ABC revisions, Mora says, “We pulled together a number of volunteers, divvied up the sections, rewrote the statue, presented our proposed legislation to the Legislature and got it enacted in just one year. I don’t like to let the grass grow under my feet.”

A former chair of the Business Law Section of The Florida Bar, Mora is now a member of the Section’s executive council and long-range planning committees. “Being active in the Bar has done so much to enhance my professional career,” she says. “Believe it or not, I was very shy as a young attorney and giving presentations and seminars helped pull me out of my shell. I will continue to be very involved, because the Bar does such important work for the citizens of Florida.”

Combining Business and the Law

Mora grew up in suburban Connecticut in the 1960s, always knowing she wanted to be a lawyer. “I loved what those TV attorneys did in unearthing the truth and presenting their cases in a courtroom,” she says. Her older brother Stephen applied to law school a few years earlier, but because of some health issues as a child he was only able to get into a non-ABA accredited California law school. Mora decided to pursue law only if she could get into a top-ten law school.  “I wanted to study business and law, and felt my career could go either way,” she says.

After graduating from high school in 1975, she went to George Washington University, earning a bachelor’s degree in finance and then chose New York University for law school. “After four years of enduring intense politics in Washington, I wanted to get back to the real world,” she says.  “In law school,  I learned how you could use business skills and financial knowledge in the practice of law, and that led me into the field of bankruptcy.”

Mora practiced in New York for a couple of years, but found she didn’t enjoy going to court at that point in her career. So, she joined a Los Angeles law firm and built a transactional practice in corporate finance and commercial lending. One of the early loans she documented resulted in a chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in Seattle, so Mora began commuting up and down the West Coast.  Wanting to move back to the east coast, Mora interviewed with attorney Scott Baena, then at the Miami office of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, a national New York-based law firm.  “We hit it off right away and in 1986 I moved to Miami and started practicing law with Scott, whose focus is more toward litigation while mine was more transactional. We’ve worked together ever since then, although my practice has transitioned back to litigation in the last 20 years.”

Joining Bilzin Sumberg

Until 1991, one of Stroock-Miami’s biggest clients was Southeast Bank, for whom Mora did many commercial finance transactions until First Union acquired the Miami institution. “They had very restrictive conflict policies, and didn’t want us to take on any work that might be adverse to them.”

In fact, conflict issues are a big problem for many bankruptcy lawyers who represent debtors and creditors’ committees, Mora adds. That’s one of the reasons she joined Bilzin Sumberg in 2000 along with Scott Baena and the rest of the Stroock bankruptcy team. “Scott and I were representing the debtor in a chapter 11 case for a large timeshare company in Orlando,” she says. “Right before the filing, we were told we couldn’t represent the debtor because one attorney in Stroock’s New York office was handling a small, unrelated matter for the national bank that was on the other side.”

At Bilzin, Mora’s high-profile cases include representing the debtor in possession in the chapter 11 case of Cabi Downtown LLC, the owner of an 849-unit condominium project, which had debts in excess of $250 million owed to a bank consortium, defaulting unit purchasers, trade creditors and its general contractor. This was the first large condominium filing in South Florida after the 2005-2007 real estate boom, and the debtor’s plan was confirmed in December 2010.

Following the successful resolution of a separate Cabi case in May 2012, U.S Bankruptcy Court Judge A. Jay Cristol told Mora, “This is truly a case of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. There being no objections, the plan is confirmed. I used to describe [Miami bankruptcy attorney] Peter Russin as the magic man. Now you are entitled to be the magic woman.”

Over the last 20 years, Mora’s practice has been primarily focused on bankruptcy work, such as representing the chapter 11 trustee in the reorganization of ITG Vegas, a Palm Beach-based “cruise to nowhere” casino operation, along with 12 of its affiliated companies, which the trustee sold to maximize the return to creditors “When the economy improves as it has in 2012, the bankruptcy work slows down, so our team needs to be more than a one-trick pony,” she says. “Lately, I’ve been working with our litigators on a number of foreclosure matters.”

When she’s not working on bankruptcies and foreclosures, Mora is frequently working out. “I’m a fitness buff who enjoys pilates, biking, running, speed walking and dancing,” she says. “In fact I met my husband, Hernando Mora, on the dance floor, and dancing is an activity that we continue to enjoy together.” Her other hobbies include cooking, reading, sports and technology. She took several classes in computer science in college, and now has a reading tablet, smartphone, laptop and other tech tools. Mora has two sons, Gregg, who recently graduated from Florida State University and now works with Coral Gables CPA and bankruptcy trustee Maria Yip, and Michael, a second-year student at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Throughout her career, Mora has lectured and published numerous articles about insolvency, restructuring and commercial lending. She also has a clear viewpoint on how best to resolve these tangled commercial matters.

“Most South Florida bankruptcy attorneys understand that reaching consensus among creditors and the debtor is the most efficient outcome for any bankruptcy case,” she says. “You may need to litigate on behalf of your client — and I represent my clients vigorously — but fighting to the bitter death is often not the best way to deal with a diminished pot of assets.  Reaching a consensual resolution with different stakeholders is the key to most successful restructurings.”

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