Originally Published in Law 360 - April 24, 2013.
Mitchell E. Widom is a partner in Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP's Miami office and leader of the firm's litigation group. Among other civil matters, he has handled litigation involving class actions, multidistrict litigation, construction, partnership disputes, land use litigation, bankruptcy preference and fraudulent transfers and insurance.
Q: What is the most challenging case you have worked on and what made it challenging?
A: As a young lawyer, I was retained by the state of Florida to represent a former legislative aide that had been accused by a member of the House of Representatives of falsely accusing him of sexual harassment to oust him out of political office. The plaintiff alleged that my client had conspired with other high-level political figures and judges to not only ruin his career as a lawyer but to force him out of the House of Representatives. This case went on for over seven years and resulted in a highly publicized jury trial that lasted over a month. I literally had to shut down my practice during this period. The case also presented many unique issues and because of the sensitive nature of the testimony, many of the female witnesses who also claimed they had been sexually harassed did not want to testify. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense on all issues.
Q: What aspects of your practice area are in need of reform and why?
A: The body of law relating to proposals for settlement under Florida law needs to be addressed by either the Florida Legislature or the Florida Supreme Court. This area of the law contains incredible uncertainty especially where there are multiple parties involved or related parties.
In these circumstances, there are reported opinions that still leave uncertainty about the validity of such proposals when they are made to or from multiple parties. These issues need to be clarified for practitioners.
Q: What is an important issue or case relevant to your practice area and why?
A: One of the most interesting decisions to come out in the last year that directly applies to my practice and to a case I tried in November 2012 is Duggan v. Peacock Point LLC, 37 Fla. L. Weekly D1206a (Fla. 1st DCA May 23, 2012). Duggan held that when a piece of property is sold to a sophisticated purchaser of property in an “as is” contract with disclaimers of warranties, it does not matter that the seller misrepresented the entitlements on the property as the burden of risk shifted to the buyer to do its own due diligence to determine the status of the entitlements.
This decision is very significant to developers and sophisticated purchasers of commercial property as it clarifies and makes clear that when property is sold “as is” with disclaimers, which is often the case in commercial transactions, the buyer cannot rely on representations of the seller unless they are specifically put into the contract.
Q: Outside your own firm, name an attorney in your field who has impressed you and explain why.
A: Ervin Gonzalez at Colson Hicks. Ervin did a great job marketing himself relating to the BP litigation and was one of 19 lawyers selected to the Public Service Commission committee. Our firm joined forces with him and his firm and currently represent numerous plaintiffs in the BP case. Ervin is extremely bright and creative. He also litigated against us in the Chinese drywall class action in New Orleans, and I thought he did a great job in that case.
Q: What is a mistake you made early in your career and what did you learn from it?
A: Relying on research given to me by others and not doing my own additional due diligence in a case early in my career was a mistake that quickly taught me to question and verify everything. I learned that being an effective litigator requires learning — and questioning — as much as possible about the dispute and validating the facts.