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A Believer in Merit

Neal Roth won his most important legal battle this fall. But the outcome was decided in the state’s voting booths rather than in the courtroom. A nationally respected trial lawyer and managing partner of Grossman Roth in Coral Gables, Roth led the successful merit retention campaign that kept three justices on the Florida Supreme Court.

“Several years ago, we saw that a concerted effort would be made to remove those justices, who had voted to strike down several unconstitutional acts passed by the state Legislature,” Roth says. “I’ve been involved in a lot of election campaigns, but this was the biggest of them all because the stakes were so high. The essence of our democracy is at risk when politics tries to inject itself into judicial decision-making.”

Teaming up with political allies like former Republican state senator Alex Villalobos, Roth was the mastermind in a campaign to educate voters about merit retention and the importance of fair and impartial courts. After the Nov. 6 ballot victory, Villalobos had high praise for Roth’s acumen and leadership.
“Even though he’s a Democrat and I’m a Republican, we’ve worked together on many issues for nearly 20 years,” he says. “He’s one of the top strategists in Florida and respected by all sides for his honesty and integrity. Neal has the ability to look at a very complex issue and break it down into a matter of right or wrong. I trust his judgment completely.”

With his analytic skills and compassion for victims of negligence, Roth has focused his trial practice on medical malpractice, personal injury, legal malpractice, securities fraud, bad faith and age discrimination cases. He has long been active in the Florida Justice Association, serving as president and playing an active role in the organization’s political and legislative matters. In 2003, they honored him with the Perry Nichols Award, recognizing a career dedicated to the advancement of justice.

A Life-changing Injury

Born in New York, Roth moved to North Miami Beach with his family at an early age. When he was 15, Roth was seriously injured while working at his father’s gas station-car wash. “As I was pumping gas, a car behind me didn’t stop in time, pinning me against another car and crushing my right leg,” he says. “I was in the hospital for four months and wound up with a shortened right leg. As a result, I had a lot of early exposure to doctors.”

Roth considered a career in medicine, but decided his abilities were more suited to the law. He also heeded his father’s advice about the importance of being your own boss. After earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida and law degree at Emory University, Roth honed his trial advocacy skills by obtaining an LL.M. at New York University with a concentration in law and medicine.

From there, Roth joined an insurance defense firm that focused on medical malpractice litigation. “But my basic philosophy and upbringing made me more oriented toward the underdog,” Roth says. “While some physicians I defended were grateful, others were angry about being in court and felt they should never have been sued in the first place. So I decided to work for clients who would really appreciate my services.”

For more than six years, Roth worked with Miami trial attorney Stanley Rosenblatt, before opening his own firm in 1985. His practice grew quickly and in 1988, Roth teamed up with Stuart Z. Grossman to form Grossman Roth. Twenty-four years later, the Coral Gables firm has four offices and 11 attorneys.

“For me one of the most important aspects of being a trial lawyer is having a great professional relationship with the client,” Roth says. “They become part of our firm’s family, and their issues really motivate me to do well in the courts.”

Roth also enjoys the analytical work involved in preparing for trial. “It takes time and a great deal of consideration to develop a strategy aimed at bringing about the best result for the client,” he says. “There are always hurdles to overcome and obstacles to remove. It’s like playing a game of chess where all the pieces are moving at the same time, as you try to checkmate the other side.”

Roth says the discovery phase is often the most critical step in the trial. “You have to be prepared to get the information you need,” he says. “Our opponents know we never cut corners in our preparation.”

That attitude has paid off in many high-profile Florida cases. Shortly after founding the firm, Roth handled a case that changed hospital protocol involving pediatric electrocardiograms (EKGs).  As an infant, Chantelle Berman had an EKG performed and interpreted by an adult cardiologist who failed to detect a congenital heart defect — a highly treatable condition if diagnosed in time.  Unfortunately, Chantelle suffered irreversible pulmonary hypertension, and later died.  After the case was settled, the hospital agreed to change its policies and procedures so that EKGs on children 12 years of age and younger would be interpreted by pediatric cardiologists. “Lives clearly have been saved” Roth says.

Enjoying Family and Sports

On the personal side, Roth enjoys playing golf and attending Miami Heat games. “Before my high school accident, I was a decent athlete,” he says. “Since then, I’ve played golf through the years. My wife Vicki and I have a second home in Pebble Beach and we enjoy our time there.” Married for more than 40 years, the Roths have two daughters, Melissa and Lori, and four grandchildren. “We’re thinking about taking more family trips with the grandchildren,” he says.
Roth is also a staunch advocate of the state’s public education system. “We need a strong school system in Florida for many reasons,” he says. “From an economic development point of view, it’s essential to attract entrepreneurs and new businesses. I have a second home in California, and I know the importance of education to Silicon Valley. We need to increase teachers’ pay and incentives to attract the best qualified educators at every level.”

Looking ahead, Roth says he wants to stay involved and manage the law firm, while preparing the next generation of leaders. “We have the lawyers here who will make that transition happen,” he says. “I plan to provide strategic advice and handle a select number of cases, and move ahead with my life.”

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