Q: But you started out as a prosecutor.
A: Right out of law school, prosecuting
first-degree murder cases. A fascinating job.
In those days, in Tampa, or in Hillsborough
County, there were two prosecutors. One
was the state attorney, and he did all capital
cases. We had a small office, and it was well-manned, in that we had two or three good
investigators and about four or five lawyers
that worked very close together. We just
worked on capital murder and rape cases.
Then there was another lawyer who was
called the county solicitor who did all other
crimes, and he had an office full of attorneys.
Q: And then you moved to the defense
A: I went to the Public Defender’s Office
for a short period of time. I didn’t want
to be a career prosecutor. I didn’t do that
long before I opened up my own practice,
which specialized in criminal law.
Q: Tell me about one of your high-profile
cases: the Brandon Pizza Hut murders.
A: A young man with three kids and a wife
worked in an inventory-control business.
He got up early to go to work, and his wife
worked nights at a Pizza Hut in Brandon,
which is right outside Tampa.
He wakes up one morning and his wife
hasn’t gotten back yet. So he couldn’t go
to work: the kids. He’s worried about her.
So he starts calling to see if there’s been
an accident. He calls the Hillsborough
County Sheriff’s Office, and they say, “We
sent somebody by the Pizza Hut, and there
were two cars parked outside.” Sort of
implying that maybe she’s off with the boss
or something. He keeps waiting for her,
waiting for her. She doesn’t get there. So
he loads the kids up in the car, and he goes
to the Pizza Hut. And he goes to the door,
and he pushes on the door with the kids in
the car, and the door’s not locked. He sees
his wife and the manager sitting on the
floor … and pools of blood … having been
shot execution-style in the head.
So he leans over the body, and he drops his
cigarette lighter into the blood. He calls the
police. And he becomes a suspect. The basic
case against him was blood splatter. They
had a so-called blood-splatter expert that
said, “No, this didn’t fall into the blood. The
blood ran to it and around it.” That’s about all
they had, really. They had no evidence of any
marital problems, no evidence of any infidelity
on her part or his. They were two hardworking
kids who were raising a family.
Q: But at some point you switched to
personal injury. Why?
A: I was getting one high-profile murder
case after the next. I was just sort of
getting worn out. I never was crazy about
the sentencing guidelines, either. When I
first started practicing law, when you got
to sentencing, the judge could impose
whatever sentence he thought was
appropriate within the maximum time
allowable. You still could get in there and
fight for your client’s sentencing.
Q: Did you have your own firm when you
were practicing criminal defense?
A: I had my own firm. It had grown to about
six or seven people when I came over here to
Wilkes & McHugh. By coming here, I could
tell people, and it was the honest truth, “I’m
not doing any more criminal law.” It [had
gotten] hard to turn people down.
Q: Because they still could find you at the
A: Yeah, they could find me. It just got very
difficult for me to tell people “no.” I knew
Jim Wilkes and Tim McHugh just as friends
before I came here to work full time. They
had begun a few years before to send me a
civil—a nursing home—case to help them
with because I had trial experience, and they
were developing trial experience of their
own. These guys pioneered this nursing
home [litigation] industry, at least in Florida,
and maybe the whole country. In the
middle ’80s, they began to take on cases
of the elderly in nursing homes who’d been
abused. No one really was doing it, because
the people were old, they had pre-existing
conditions; they didn’t really make very
good medical malpractice cases. It was an
easy defense to say, “Well, sure bad things
happened. Look, she had diabetes. She was
88 years old. She had bad circulation. What
do you expect?”
But with the Nursing Home Residents’
Rights Act that exists in Florida, they were
able to approach the case from a different
point of view. They would send me some
nursing home cases that I would work on
with them. It felt like helping, you know—
championing the cause of the elderly. It
reminded me of my prosecuting days.
They were looking for somebody. I came
to talk to them here one day about one of
the cases I was working on, and one thing
led to another.