Two Legal Eagles Partner Up

Two seasoned litigators—and deft dealmakers—launch the Government Law Group

By the time attorneys Keith Poliakoff and Neil Schiller departed Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, they’d shared a 15-year friendship—and a goal to found a new firm, the Government Law Group. With Poliakoff based in Broward County, and Schiller in Palm Beach County, the partnership reflects their commitment to offer comprehensive service in land use, lobbying, government contracts, litigation and municipal representation.

They also share a love of deal making. The two left on amicable terms with Saul Ewing and will maintain a referral relationship with the firm to assist clients in areas outside of the GLG’s core practice, but their hours are consumed charting their own course—by forging the kinds of complex deals at the intersection of government and commerce that have long been their passion.

Poliakoff’s road to law was not linear. He graduated from Syracuse, made his bones as a journalist, with stints at CNN and NBC News Miami. But he couldn’t shake the dream of law school, eventually earning his J.D. at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

His war stories comprise a long list. His current client, BGI Capital, a national developer, was looking for residential projects; another developer client, MG3 Properties, wanted to sell a property it had acquired in Hollywood. “One of the first things I did was make a match and tell them to speak to each other,” Poliakoff recalls. As a result, BGI has under contract a property for MG3—a luxury apartment building in downtown Hollywood.

“But it didn’t stop there,” Poliakoff says. “Once I realized that BGI was interested in developing in Hollywood, I was meeting with the mayor of Hollywood and out of the blue he mentioned that the old Publix that runs into Hollywood Boulevard may be on the market. I immediately called BGI and said, ‘Hey, why only take block 58 in Hollywood from MG3, why not take the whole area and look at block 57 too?’ And sure enough, within a matter of days we got that block under contract as well, and now we’re building one of the largest apartment and mixed-use developments in the city, valued well over a billion dollars at build-out.”

The deal also includes the potential for Hollywood Boulevard to extend east and west directly through the old Publix site. “And what did we do?” Poliakoff asks. “It was finding the property and taking it from A to Z, serving as the complete quarterback for the developer. As someone who always wanted to play football and never had the physical prowess to do so, this is my opportunity to be a quarterback.”

He also calls the deal a “home run” for a city that was looking for redevelopment as well as for his client. “I always knew I wanted to change the skyline of Florida help those municipalities,” he says, “some of

which are in dire need of smart redevelopment. Having a political background—my father was in politics—I always felt that deal making was something I enjoyed doing.”

As for Poliakoff’s new partner, Neil Schiller—armed with a bachelor’s and a law degree from the University of Miami—has grown into his practice area, which is notched with a range of high-profile projects. “I do land use and zoning and development law, like Keith, and I’ve done so many different projects over the years—and none of the easy ones,” he says. “These are the hard ones. Even though not many of them get developed because they’re so complex, it is a joy to see those projects get approved, from Transit Village of West Palm Beach with [Transit Village president] Mike Masanoff years and years ago, to the midtown Delray Beach project, which is now called Sundy Village that was approved two years ago.”

A particularly salient example of his wheeling and dealing is South Florida’s Brightline train system. “I was responsible for negotiating all the crossing agreements for Brightline,” Schiller says. “It was a great learning experience not only as a young lawyer, but as a lawyer going before city councils where they really hated me.”

He repeats: “They really hated me; they really hated my client. My territory was Palm Beach County all the way to Orange County. In some of those more northern cities and counties, the level of sophistication was there but the zealousness and hatred got worse and worse as we went north.”

If this sounds like a story of failure that Schiller had to bounce back from, think again: “Many city councils voted against the crossing agreements at first,” he recalls, “and then after some massaging, after some meetings, after some advocacy, they changed their minds, realizing that this was a very good deal. Now we’re working on Phase 2 all the way to Orlando now.”

Deal accomplished.

Link: Two Legal Eagles Partner Up
Auther: Drew Limsky

City of Boca Raton and Beach & Park District At Odds Again Over Ocean Breeze

Two weeks ago, it appeared that an era of good feeling finally had begun between the Boca Raton City Council and the board of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District.

It didn’t last.

Last week, council members and City Manager Leif Ahnell said they came away from the April 26 joint meeting believing that the city and district would work together to decide which recreation facilities and programs to add. Guiding them would be the survey that both agencies paid for. Key to that plan would be the 212 acres that once were the Ocean Breeze Golf Course.

Suddenly, council members complained, the district went back on that commitment and was planning its own study of Ocean Breeze. Ahnell, sounding exasperated, said that failing to work together would be wasteful and redundant. Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said she had tried to work with the district despite the many differences that have arisen but now was about to give up. Others echoed that sentiment.

Board member Steve Engel confirmed that the district is “examining the idea of a master plan for the entirety of Ocean Breeze.” The district owns the east side outright. The city underwrote bonds for the district’s purchase of the west side. The district reimburses the city for the annual payments.

This planning, Engel said, “does not rule out a partnership with the city in developing the west side or working with the city on a master plan for all park facilities in the district as well as those non-district facilities within the city.”

Board member Bob Rollins said council members had no reason to criticize the district. “We were never asked to participate” in a joint plan, Rollins said. Ahnell’s exasperation was “unfounded.”

Council member Andy Thomson said, “We all just figured that they had agreed.” They figured wrong.

As always, this comes back to golf.

Boca Country Club, photo courtesy of the City of Boca Raton

The city believes that the revamped, 18-hole course at Boca Country Club— which the Boca Raton Resort & Club is donating, effective Oct. 1—will be a sufficient replacement for Boca Raton Municipal—which the city is selling to GL Homes. Council members want to focus on other recreation priorities and use Ocean Breeze for non-golf activities.

Rollins, however, told me, “I haven’t given up on the idea of golf at Ocean Breeze.” He has support from golfers and some residents of Boca Teeca, the community that surrounds Ocean Breeze. Rollins said the east side of Ocean Breeze could accommodate something like the short par-62 layout at Boca Dunes. Younger players, Rollins said, want shorter courses like the nine-hole course at Boca Municipal that the city can’t replicate at Boca Country Club.

As Thomson points out, however, even if Rollins’ colleagues agree with him, the district doesn’t have the money to build such a course. If the district asked the council for money, Thomson said, “they would not find a willing giver.” City officials also dispute that the public considers golf to be a top priority. Still, on Monday the district board voted, in board member Susan Vogelgesang’s words, “to explore possible recreational amenities at the Ocean Breeze property.”

Beyond this communication gap is an important issue. Combined, the city and district have only so much to spend on recreation, and costs are rising. Spending must align with what the public wants. This regularly dysfunctional relationship needs to become more functional.

Tree removal update

Delray Beach’s Great Tree Removal Controversy is over, with compromise winning.

The city and Pebb Capital, developer of Sundy Village, reached what Pebb’s attorney, Neil Schiller, called “a fair settlement” during Friday’s hearing. The city will impose no fines and Pebb will submit a new landscaping plan for Sundy Village. The allegedly wrongful removal of 79 trees took place in five places within the project area.

Schiller called it a case of “miscommunication and misunderstanding. (Pebb) thought they had approval” from a city staff member. City Commissioner Ryan Boylston said that staffer had exceeded his authority in approving the removals. Boylston said it would have been unreasonable to fine Pebb for not double-checking on the approval.

Critics of Sundy Village pounced on the removals to denounce Pebb and call for harsh penalties. Instead, Boylston said, “We slowed down when some people were saying, ‘Lock them up.’ “ He praised City Attorney Lynn Gelin for getting to what seems like a reasonable outcome.

As for Sundy Village itself, Schiller said Pebb hopes to go before the historic preservation board with its new plan “in July or August.” The company plans an outreach campaign to persuade the community that Sundy Village is a big improvement from when the project was called Midtown under a previous owner.

With all that at stake, it seemed silly to think that Pebb would have taken out those trees without asking. Said Schiller, “There was no malicious intent.”

And more on trees

Since we’re on the subject of trees, Delray Beach has a study from six years ago that recommended a citywide plan to improve the tree canopy.

In 2015, before his election to the city commission and his failed run for mayor a year later, Jim Chard and others crafted the plan. For all the venom directed at Pebb Capital, Chard noted, “The prime deforester in Delray Beach is the city itself.”

Chard cited several examples of the city’s lax policies, especially downtown. Loss of trees there, Chard said, has more of an impact because of all the concrete.

Then-Mayor Cary Glickstein urged Chard to compile the report. It runs to 45 pages and points out how hurricanes, development and other factors have made Delray Beach less tree-friendly. It lays out an extremely detailed policy. Example: how not to “girdle, scar, perforate” or otherwise harm a tree when bracing it.

Chard said the report “went nowhere.” Maybe it now should go somewhere.

City Manager list a little longer

Delray Beach’s human resources department wants to narrow the field of city manager candidates to five and let the city commission take it from there.

The department added three names to the list of five it had recommended. One of those names is Michael Bornstein, who is city manager in Lake Worth Beach. Bornstein announced his resignation last month after the March election dramatically altered the makeup of the city commission, but he is staying on through early June.

Human resources officials are canvassing commissioners to get their top choices and shorten the list through consensus. As early as today’s meeting, the commission could choose how many and which candidates to interview. Delray Beach has been without a permanent manager for nearly 11 months.

Should Delray lighten up?

Downtown Delray (Photo courtesy DDA)

Should Delray Beach make the city brighter and safer?

That question is on the agenda for today’s city commission meeting. Florida Power & Light is offering to replace all existing sodium halogen street lights with Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs—at no charge. In addition, FPL would replace the white LED lights along the beach with amber lights that are considered friendlier to sea turtles. That change would allow beachfront lights to be on during the eight-month nesting season.

LED street lights would bring several benefits. They use less energy and last longer. Law enforcement agencies believe that the sharper illumination makes for more accurate descriptions of suspects and better security cameras images.

As the staff memo notes, however, residents in other cities have complained that LED brightness is, well, too bright. But after a time, residents adjusted and appreciated what they perceived to be better visibility and security.

According to the memo, the city could use a fixture that isn’t as bright but doesn’t offer the clarity of white light. Given some of the myths about LED lighting and the social media nattering in Delray Beach, this could be a lively discussion.

Tallahassee vs. Home Rule—again

Old and new capitol buildings in Tallahassee, Florida. (State Archives of Florida)

When you hear elected officials in Boca Raton and Delray Beach warn about the Legislature “pre-empting”—stripping power from—local government, they have in mind legislation like House Bill 403.

It passed the Florida House and Senate. It would prevent cities and counties from regulating home-based businesses differently than other businesses. Supporters claim that it would encourage “garage entrepreneruship” of the sort that led Bill Hewlett and David Packard to create their eponymous company in Palo Alto, Calif.

Critics, however, respond that, if Gov. DeSantis signs it, HB 403 would allow any sort of loud, customer-intensive business in single-family neighborhoods. Local governments treat home-based businesses differently because, well, they’re in homes. No one cares if a neighbor runs an investment consulting service from her den. Many people would care if that neighbor began running garage sales every Saturday and Sunday. Boca Raton passed a restriction on such sales after one home began having them so often that it disrupted the neighborhood.

Tallahassee passed other pre-emption bills, but the Florida League of Cities considers this one of the session’s worst.

 

Link: City of Boca Raton and Beach & Park District At Odds Again Over Ocean Breeze

Author: Randy Schultz

Highland Beach Backs Out of Fire Contract, Wildflower Over Budget & More

(Photo courtesy Delray Beach Fire Rescue)

Highland Beach wants out of the town’s fire-rescue contract with Delray Beach–perhaps as soon as next year.

At last week’s meeting, the town commission voted unanimously to send Delray Beach a notice of withdrawal from the 10-year contract that runs until 2026. Each side must provide three years’ notice. Town Attorney Glen Torcivia, however, claimed that Highland Beach may have reason to terminate for breach of contract. In that case, the town could ask to leave after just one year.

For now, the letter will date Highland Beach’s notice as May 1 for departure in three years. Mayor Douglas Hillman, however, wants to reserve the “option” of getting out even earlier. Commissioners will decide after a “forensic” examination of Delray Beach’s performance.

Hillman said additional costs from Delray Beach’s increased staffing would bring the contract to 40 percent of Highland Beach’s budget next year. He claimed that the town could save $2 million a year in operating expenses with its own department, thus offsetting in five years what a consultant said would be startup costs of between $8 million and $10 million.

Delray Beach Fire Chief Keith Tomey consistently has challenged the consultant’s numbers on which the town commissioners are relying. Tomey believes that the consultant especially has lowballed the startup costs.

On Monday, Tomey also challenged Hillman’s assertion that Highland Beach has a “good possibility” of a mutual aid agreement that would replace the one with Delray Beach. No nearby full-service city, Tomey told me, would sign an agreement with a town that has only about 4,000 residents. Delray Beach has such agreements with Boca Raton and Boynton Beach because all parties have the resources to help each other. A deal with Highland Beach, Tomey said, would be too lopsided.

Whatever the real numbers, the issue has become personal in Highland Beach. Hillman claimed that the town is subsidizing calls from Highland Beach’s station to Delray Beach. He predicted further cost increases because of the city’s “low-funded pension” and the new contract with the International Association of Fire Fighters.

One commissioner praised Hillman’s “courage” and criticized “misinformation” from Delray Beach. Another said Delray Beach simply wanted Highland Beach to be “subservient” and just accept higher and higher costs because the contract has no annual cap.

An example of those contested costs is Delray Beach’s plan to add a third person on rescue calls from the station in Highland Beach. Tomey defends the added expense by citing, among other things, American Heart Association protocols. They note that some lifesaving procedures require two persons with the patient while the third drives.

Hillman acknowledged the potential benefits by saying that Highland Beach “might” add a third person. If that happened, though, he claimed that the town still could do it for less money. “Health and safety of our residents,” Hillman said, is the priority, “not the savings.”

Still, money seems to be the flashpoint. Town commissioners complained about all the captains in Delray Beach’s fire department compared to the city’s police department. Tomey calls that a false comparison, since captain is the first level of promotion after driver-engineer, which is not a supervisory position.

Field training officer is the police equivalent of fire-driver. After that, however, the promotion track goes to sergeant and lieutenant before captain.

Until now, Delray Beach commissioners have shown little interest in negotiating. The general attitude has been that ending the contract might benefit the city.

Tomey, however, disagrees. “We need them as much as they need us,” he said. Without the contract, “We still need a way to respond” to calls from that Highland Beach station. “And those calls only will increase.”

For now, Tomey said, the department is talking with city administrators about the 22 employees who could lose their jobs if the contract ends. The department has averaged between four and five departures each year recently, so turnover could solve part of that problem.

If Highland Beach alleged breach of contract, Delray Beach could challenge that. In an email, Delray Beach City Attorney Lynn Gelin said that “the City would absolutely contest a termination for breach.” The city commission’s next regular meeting is May 4.

Tomey’s perspective

Part of this issue also is personal for Tomey. In December, he suffered a serious heart attack. Coral Springs/Parkland firefighters responded with four people in the vehicle.

Tomey credited the responders with saving his life. Three paramedics were in the back of the truck with Tomey when he had his heart attack, “because they thought I was going to code,” he noted. A fourth was driving.

Wildflower update

Wildflower park rendering (Courtesy of City of Boca Raton)

Wildflower/Silver Palm won’t be just the most expensive park–based on size–that Boca Raton has built. It will also be the most micromanaged park.

During Monday’s workshop meeting, city council members spent more than an hour making some small cuts to the projected budget while debating the location of a bathroom and “stone seats” that look like mushrooms with the stems cut off. All this over 6.2 acres north and south of the Palmetto Park Road bridge on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Though the council tentatively trimmed it–a final vote will take place in two weeks–the construction price likely will be $1 million-plus over budget. That could be roughly $9 million. Add the $7.5 million purchase price for the roughly two acres of the Wildflower portion.

Councilman Andy Thomson asked how much it cost to build Hillsboro El Rio South Park, which opened in February 2020. Answer: about $5.7 million on 14.7 acres the city already owned. The project came in on budget.

Councilwomen Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte rejected that comparison. O’Rourke, who opposed any cuts to what the contractor had proposed as a $10.3 million project, said Wildflower/Silver Palm would be an “experiential destination” with “hidden economic benefits” for downtown merchants. Those benefits must be very hidden, since no city study has outlined them.

O’Rourke repeatedly cited the supposed community “vision” that only busting the budget could fulfill. There were public forums and people did provide comment. But this project long has been dominated by a slice of the city that lives nearby and hated the idea of a revenue-producing restaurant on that property. “If we didn’t have so much vision,” Mayor Scott Singer said, “we wouldn’t be spending so much money.”

If only that vision had more grounding in reality. At one point, supporters proposed that there be no parking places. The Silver Palm portion includes the existing motorized boat launch, but the uses on the Wildflower property presume that a tiny parcel can become what O’Rourke calls “an amenity of excellence.”

Breaking the budget for Wildflower/Silver Palm won’t shake Boca Raton’s financial foundation. The question is whether the money to build it will have been wasted.

Rental bills fail again

Old and new capitol buildings in Tallahassee, Florida. (State Archives of Florida)

For another year, legislation to preempt local regulation of vacation rentals has failed in the Florida Legislature. Boca Raton, Delray Beach and many other cities had opposed the bills.

Preemption has become more of an issue in recent years. Another bill that didn’t pass would have prevented local governments from banning new gas stations. Interestingly, Delray Beach just rejected a proposal for a RaceTrac station and restaurant. Under such a law, Delray Beach might not have had a choice.

Schiller moves on

Neil Schiller, the lawyer-lobbyist who has appeared often recently before the Delray Beach City Commission and also has had clients in Boca Raton, is leaving his firm to start a new venture.

Schiller and one other lawyer from Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr will form Government Law Group, practicing in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Boca Bash ripples

Here’s the scorecard from Boca Bash 2021, courtesy of the Boca Raton Police Department:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has jurisdiction over Lake Boca, made 10 arrests for boating under the influence, one arrest for disorderly intoxication and one arrest for resisting arrest without violence.

In terms of public health, we may never know the total of COVID-19 cases spread by the maskless crowd in boats packed tightly together.

Wake Up Call: Foley Hoag Offers Unlimited D&I Hours Credit

In today’s column, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton got a slap-down from the Texas House over his spending on outside counsel; the SEC named a Paul, Weiss partner to be the agency’s enforcement head; a Minnesota law school dean wants to start a prison-to-law school pipeline.

  • Leading off, Foley Hoag is offering unlimited billable hours credit for diversity and inclusion work by associates and other timekeepers, according to a report. Several other Big Law firms also accept D&I work toward their billable hours targets for bonuses and other incentives, with Baker McKenzie’s 125 hours limit apparently the biggest. Until now. (Above the Law)
  • The Texas House of Representatives Thursday adopted a budget amendment aimed at controlling how much Attorney General Ken Paxton spends on outside attorneys. He’s been shelling out as much as $3,780 per hour and the amendment would limit that to $500. (Houston Chronicle)
  • Big Law’s non-equity tier share of the overall partnership has about doubled in the last 20 years to reach 45.7% last year. The non-equity tier’s per firm average aggregate compensation rose 9.2%, from $92.5 million to $101.1 million in 2020. There’s debate about whether that growth is a positive or negative for the profession. (American Lawyer)

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • Hogan Lovells appointed London-based partner James Doyle as global corporate & finance practice group leader starting July 1, taking over from partner David Gibbons, who’s returning full time to his practice. Doyle will work with Baltimore- and Washington-based partner David Bonser, who takes on the firm’s new role of corporate practice managing partner starting May 1. Doyle and Bonser are among several new appointments the firm announced to its international management committee and board; Dykema promoted labor & employment member and litigator Elisa Lintemuth to managing member of the firm’s Grand Rapids office. (Dykema.com)
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission named Paul Weiss partner and former federal prosecutor Alex Oh as head of enforcement. (Bloomberg News via BLAW)

Laterals, Moves, In-House

  • The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium said Intel’s director of legal operations, Mike Haven, a CLOC board member, is taking over as its head in May from Mary O’Carroll, who’s leaving her job as Google’s director of legal operations for another job; financial services law firm Murphy & McGonigle hired veteran banking in-house leader and former SEC lawyer and branch chief Steve Gannon, most recently executive vice president, general counsel, and chief legal officer of Citizens Financial Group, in Boston. Gannon’s previously been GC at Wachovia Securities and deputy general counsel and EVP at Capital One; legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa hired former PepsiCo Inc. legal director for anti-corruption compliance Thanh Nguyen as director for in-house legal recruiting based in Los Angeles. (MLAGlobal.com)
  • Goodwin Procter poached its third London tax partner this year from Kirkland & Ellis, this time getting David Irvine. Irvine was earlier at Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Akin Gump hired hired Schulte Roth & Zabel investment funds attorney Brian Daly as a partner in New York; Sheppard Mullin hired bankruptcy lawyer Paul Harner in New York as a partner. He arrives from Ballard Spahr where he led the New York restructuring practice. (SheppardMullin.com)
  • Former California federal prosecutor Alexander F. Porter joined Davis Wright Tremaine as a partner in Los Angeles; Four former Florida local government lawyers at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, including Saul Ewing’s Florida government relations practice co-chair, Keith Poliakoff, left to start their own firm. (GovLawGroup.com)

Technology

  • Seward & Kissel said it advised Sotheby’s on the auction house’s recent first sale of blockchain-tech-based non-fungible tokens, in a partnership with digital artist Pak that yielded $16.8 million in total; Womble Bond Dickinson signed on as an early adopter of Reynen Court’s new “full-service” offering for law firms. (Artificial Lawyer)

Legal Education

  • The dean of a Minnesota-based law school recently proctored the Law School Admission Test for two law school candidates who are prison inmates. The dean, with two local prisoner-advocacy groups, wants to establish a prison-to-law school pipeline. (Law.com)

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at rMitchell@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Darren Bowman at dbowman@bloomberglaw.com

Link: Wake Up Call: Foley Hoag Offers Unlimited D&I Hours Credit
Author: Rick Mitchell in Paris at rMitchell@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com