A Believer in the U.S. Jury System
South Florida Legal Guide - 2010 Edition
After more than 40 years as a trial lawyer, Gerald F. Richman believes in the jury system. As a volunteer leader in the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), he’s working hard to export the concept of American civil jury trials to Europe and Asia. “The United States is the only country in the world with civil jury trials, except that England uses juries for libel cases. Japan and Korea are now experimenting with juries for criminal trials,” he says.
In recent years, Richman has traveled to Latvia and Portugal, as well as around the United States, to demonstrate mock jury trials, and will be doing the same in Asia in 2010. “I think jury trials are an extremely important part of democracy,” he says. “It gives people an opportunity to directly and meaningfully participate in their government.”
Richman, who is board certified in both Civil Trial and Business Litigation and president of Richman Greer, can certainly be considered an expert on the jury system. Since winning his first case in 1969, a products liability matter, Richman has represented a wide range of individual and corporate clients. For example, he defended the world’s largest arms dealer in a case featured on “60 Minutes” and “20/20,” and recently sued ExxonMobil for millions of dollars in a breach of contract action.
“What keeps me going as a trial lawyer is the complexity and diversity of the kinds of cases I handle,” he says. “I like to argue and debate, and I love being in the courtroom. To me it’s a lot of fun.”
FROM CONSTRUCTION TO THE LAW
Born in Brooklyn in 1941, Richman came to Miami Beach with his family in 1950. After high school, he went to Georgia Tech University intending to study electrical engineering, and then transferred to the University of Florida where he earned a degree in building construction. His goal was to go into the construction business.
“I became a lawyer because of the Berlin Wall,” he recalls. “It was 1961 and I planned to get an MBA at Harvard or Wharton and then go into the Army Corps of Engineers.” But then the Army canceled all graduate school deferments with one exception: students who had a one-time only scholarship offer. Richman had taken the LSAT and received a scholarship offer from the University of Florida law school. “So, I decided to try the law, liked it and received an award as the outstanding graduate for my class,” he says.
After a one-year clerkship with Judge George Young in Orlando, Richman joined the Defense Appellate Division of the Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps in Washington, D.C., where he argued court martial appeals from around the world.
An active volunteer for U.S. Congressman Claude Pepper, Richman was assigned as a White House aide to President Johnson for a year and studied at Georgetown University’s Graduate Law School. He then volunteered for a stint with the JAG in Vietnam, even though he didn’t support the war. Instead, Richman was sent to Korea as a staff judge advocate, where he tried many court martials, before returning to duty at the White House. “The last thing I did in the U.S. Army was escort Chief Justice Earl Warren and President Nixon to the Cabinet swearing-in ceremony,” says Richman, who was awarded the Presidential Service Badge for Honorable Service at the White House.
RETURNING TO MIAMI
Richman considered staying in Washington, but felt he could get better trial experience if he returned to Miami. He considered several offers before joining Frates, Fay, Floyd & Pearson, where he soon became a partner. He’s been with the firm, now known as Richman Greer, for 40 years and several name changes.
As a young lawyer, Richman soon developed a practice in condominium law, including management agreements and 99-year leases. He represented the state’s largest condo association in a management agreement dispute that resulted in seven years of litigation and the successful termination of the 25-year management agreement. In 1972, he was appointed to the Florida Condominium Commission, which was created by the state Legislature to investigate the industry and recommend legislative reforms.
Richman?s trial skills and success in the courtroom led him to a series of leadership roles in the legal profession. In 1984, he was elected president of The Florida Bar. He was also a member of the American Bar Association?s House of Delegates and served as president of the Dade County Bar Association. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and former board member of the International Society of Barristers. In 1989, Richman was the Democratic nominee to the U.S. Congress from Miami.
In 1995, Richman moved to Palm Beach County, opening a new office for the firm. Active in the community, he is a member of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County and the Criminal Justice Commission of Palm Beach County. “I like the pace of my practice in Palm Beach County,” he says. “It’s a central location for handling cases from Miami to the Treasure Coast.”
A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
After the inconclusive 2000 presidential vote in Florida, Richman spent 23 days working nonstop as pro bono attorney challenging the election results. He led a team of 16 lawyers that focused on the absentee ballot solicitations sent out by the Republican Party in Seminole County that did not include space for a voter identification number.
“The election supervisor in Seminole County by law declared the ballots void, and then someone in the GOP said, ‘We can take those ballots and add the voter ID number,’” Richman says. “The election supervisor let them do it in the supervisor’s office for ten days.” The Seminole case, with 1,400 ballots and a similar case in Martin County were tried in Tallahassee, and both judges ruled the Republican Party’s action was a “wrong without a remedy.”. The Florida Supreme Court, which had just been hammer 5-4 by the U.S. Supreme Court, affirmed the earlier counts. Had the ballots not been counted, the election result would have been reversed in Florida and the nation, says Richman, who wrote an article, “Voting Florida Style,” for the International Society of Barristers in 2002.
Today, Richman is still involved in a wide variety of litigation, including construction warranty claims, corporate and individual contract and real estate disputes, law firm and legal malpractice litigation, and major class actions.
“I have had the pleasure of practicing with Gerry and being his opposing counsel,” says Stephen N. Zack, administrative partner, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP, Miami. “I have found that in either case, he was a consummate gentleman and always prepared.”
As a sideline, Richman has partnered with Michael Spiegel, MD, in Advatech Corp., a medical device company founded in 1990 that holds a broad patent for pulsed electromagnetic field devices to accelerate healing.
He and his wife Gwen have two daughters, one in law school and another who recently married a lawyer. While practicing law takes most of his time, Richman enjoys water skiing and fishing, and plays tennis every week.
“I intend to practice law as long as I can,” he says, “and I don’t think about retirement. I hope my legacy will be seen as promoting integrity, professionalism and dedication — both to my clients and to the profession.”
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