How one Sarasota organization helps lawyers pass along traditions of professionalism and ethics

December 2nd, 2014

A long-standing Sarasota legal tradition is observed each month when members of the Judge John M. Scheb American Inn of Court gather for dinner and conversation.

American Inn of Court history dates back to the late 1970s, when a group of judges, including then-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren E. Burger, discussed the need for a national organization that would promote legal excellency, civility, professionalism and ethics. Since then, the popularity of Inns has exploded: Now there are nearly 400 Inns in 48 states, D.C., Guam and Tokyo, with more than 30,000 active members.

Sarasota’s Inn was formed in 1991 and has become a cornerstone in the local legal community. It was recently named to the national organization’s list of the country’s top Inns, achieving Platinum status, placing the Sarasota branch among the top 62 in the nation.

Kirk Pinkerton, PA attorney Matt Whyte was chosen this year to be a Master with the local Inn, the culmination of a long process that began when he was in law school at Stetson University. Over the years, he has worked his way up, from Student to Associate to Barrister and now Master.

The Inn of Court allows attorneys from varied backgrounds and practice areas to get together in a social environment to discuss issues facing the legal community as a whole. Attorneys provide presentations on their specialties, too, educating their peers on best practices and other legal issues they may not be familiar with.

“Attending Inn of Court dinners has benefited me so much over the years,” Whyte says. “Lawyers typically don’t have much time to meet and talk in such a low-pressure, social atmosphere, and I’ve had the opportunity to have some amazing discussions with legendary attorneys and judges.”

With such a diverse group of legal professionals, the Inn of Court also plays a major role in fostering intergenerational discussion and helps established attorneys pass along traditions of courtesy and ethics.

“When I was a new lawyer, interacting with attorneys and judges from previous generations taught me so much about how to act professionally, how to treat my fellow lawyers and clients with respect,” Whyte says. It’s a tradition Whyte is eager to pass along now that he himself is a senior member of the group. “I try everyday to do things the right way, and I’m eager to share what I learned with lawyers who are just launching their careers.”

The Judge John M. Scheb American Inn of Court meets monthly during the fall, winter and spring. For more information about the group, click here. For more information about Kirk Pinkerton, PA, visit kirkpinkerton.com or call 941-364-2400. To contact Matt Whyte, email him at mwhyte@kirkpinkerton.com.

Military Tradition Rooted in Robertson Family

November 10th, 2014

Most families have a box of mementos and memorabilia from their parents, maybe their grandparents. Kirk Pinkerton CEO Bill Robertson’s box goes all the way back to the Civil War.

From inside, he pulls out a detailed archive of his family’s history of military and legal service, with personal diaries, letters and photographs that tell a five-generation saga beginning in Tennessee and ending in Sarasota, with detours to Gettysburg, France, Germany, Italy and beyond.

The earliest documents in Robertson’s collection are amongst the most fascinating. They include a personal, handwritten diary of the Civil War jotted down by Robertson’s great-great-grandfather, Col. John A. Fite, who fought for the Confederacy in the 7th Tennessee Infantry. He also recorded his thoughts in letters sent back home and in a memoir that is hundreds of pages long.

In his personal writings, Col. Fite tells the story of a young man who became a leader during the Civil War, meeting Robert E. Lee and drinking with Stonewall Jackson. Wounded twice, he led troops into battle during the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was captured as part of Pickett’s Charge. Held as a POW, he was imprisoned with thousands of other Confederate officers on Johnson’s Island in Ohio. Eventually released, he returned to his home in Lebanon, Tenn., and began practicing law, eventually becoming a judge.

Among Col. Fite’s belongings is a typed list in which he judges the effectiveness and bravery of his men. Most make the grade, while others are maligned: One soldier “deserted July 16, 1863; ought to have died when he was little.” Another “deserted to the enemy, May 20, 1864; should have died when he was little; afterwards shot by the Yankees.”

Col. Fite’s memoirs were typed up and then meticulously corrected with red ink, the paper stamped with the name of Col. Fite’s son, “N. G. Robertson, Lawyer, Lebanon, Tenn.” While N. G. did not service in the armed forces, he continued Col. Fite’s tradition of legal service, something he passed on to his son, John Fite Robertson, Bill’s grandfather.

John Fite Robertson made a record of his own military service, commanding an artillery battery as a first lieutenant in France during World War I, when he witnessed the world’s first aerial duels, “the greatest exhibit of flying skill I have ever seen,” and survived being strafed by German machine gun fire.

His memoirs are printed on legal paper bearing the logo of Robertson, Robertson, Walker, Cummins & Benson, the law firm he founded after relocating to Sarasota in 1925. John Fite Robertson later served as mayor of Sarasota. It was during his tenure, 1948-1951, that legendary City Manager Ken Thompson was hired; Thompson became the longest-serving city manager in American history and spent 38 years on the job.

Also included among John Fite Robertson’s paper are documents of tragedy. A generation after he shipped out to Europe, his two sons, John Fite Robertson, Jr., and William E. Robertson were sent to Europe to fight the Nazis. William fought with the 364th infantry and Gen. George S. Patton during the Battle of the Bulge, during which he was wounded, while his brother was killed leading troops into battle against the S.S. in Italy.

Among Bill Robertson’s collection is the original Western Union telegram sent to John Fite Robertson by Adjutant General James Alexander Ulio with news of the death of Robertson’s son’s. “The secretary of war asks that I assure you of his deep sympathy in the loss of your son First Lieutenant John Robertson Jr report received states he died July in Italy as result of wounds received in action letter follows,” reads Ulio’s telegram.

Some of John Fite Robertson, Jr.’s fellow soldiers reached out to his father to share stories of his bravery. Even after being mortally wounded, John Fite Robertson, Jr., continued to command and direct his men. “The men in his company showed in his last battle that they would follow him anywhere,” one of his fellow soldiers wrote. “I saw John that morning as he was being evacuated,” another soldier wrote. “Although badly wounded, he was cheerful and smiling, I don’t believe in much pain.”

Reflecting on his son’s life and death, John Fite Robertson wrote a brief biography with details of the young man’s upbringing and service. The book’s title, It Remains to Be Seen, references the last words his son said to him before shipping out. While saying goodbye, John Fite Robertson told his son he was a “great boy.” “That remains to be seen,” his son said, hugging and kissing his father in farewell.

John Fite Robertson, Jr., was posthumously awarded both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, and was eventually laid to rest in the family burial plot in Lebanon, Tenn. Among the Robertson family collection is a certificate signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, praising John Fite Robertson, Jr. “He lives — in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men,” reads the document.

While his son made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, in his writings, John Fite Robertson described the loss that all veterans feel after leaving combat behind. In the closing words of his autobiography he reflected on how his time in World War I had affected him. “I am aware of the fact that my service in France took something out of my make-up,” he wrote, “something that I, and possibly others, can’t understand, but in place of it I have memories and associations that no men can understand unless he too served Over There.”

“Growing up with my family’s history of service, I learned early on that all the freedoms we enjoy are due to the American soldiers protecting us around the globe,” Bill says. “As a fifth-generation attorney, I know that my rights, to say what I want without fear of retribution, to represent injured people and families who have lost loved ones and are trying to put their lives back together, to challenge the powerful, all depend on brave Americans standing up to safeguard the Constitution.”

Another lesson Robertson learned from his family history: what it means to take care of your fellow soldiers. After World War I, his grandfather helped found the American Legion, created to maintain the fierce relationships forged in European combat after hostilities were over. And his father would automatically provide pro bono help to any veteran in need, no questions asked.

Bill is doing his best to carry on both his family’s legacy of providing exceptional legal service and of helping veterans. On the last Friday of each month, he dedicates his WSRQ radio show, “Let’s Talk Law,” to Helping Our Heroes, created to assist veterans in need. Working with community partners like Goodwill Manasota and the Women’s Resource Center of Sarasota County, the show identifies a veteran in need each month, then tries to match him or her up with a local company looking to hire dedicated employees.

“We’ve been doing the program since March, and each month, the veteran we’ve featured has quickly landed a job,” Bill says. “But I know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Often I’ve found that veterans simply aren’t aware of many of the resources out there to help them. And so we’ve launched a new website, kirkpinkertonveteransbenefits.org, which will gather together every last resource we can find to help our region’s 130,000 veterans.”

On the site, veterans are able to find emotional and mental health support, find legal help and get assistance if they’re going through a foreclosure. Female veterans will find resources specifically tailored to their needs. It will also include information about job fairs and list employers who are looking to hire veterans, and share news about important programs like a Florida law that grants in-state college tuition to any veteran anywhere.

“Whenever I look through my family’s papers, I’m always astounded by how much they sacrificed to protect this country, and I’m so grateful to all the brave Americans out there now putting their lives on the line,” Bill says. “The least we can do is make sure we give them every opportunity to succeed when they return.”

Tips on what to watch for on Election Day from a Florida election law expert

November 3rd, 2014

Statewide elections in Florida always seem to be nail-biters, and this year’s intense contest between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Republican-governor-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist is no exception. Recent polls give Crist a tiny edge, but the difference is well within the margin of error, and the truth is that no one knows what’s going to happen next Tuesday.

With such a miniscule difference separating the candidates, the results this year could depend heavily on a handful of legal issues governing which ballots should be counted and what might happen if a recount or election contest is mounted.

Few are more knowledgeable about the ins and outs of Florida election law than Kirk-Pinkerton Board-Certified Civil Trial Lawyer Tom Shults. He has represented candidates, parties and PACs in election disputes and litigation, and successfully represented the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections in a case that went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. That case involved the constitutionality of election law amendments to the Sarasota County charter.

“We all want political races to be decided in the voting booth, not the courtroom, but attorneys play a vital role in ensuring that candidates, voters and election workers all follow the rules,” says Shults. “Hopefully this year’s elections won’t come down to the wire like so many others in Florida’s recent history, but if it does, it’s important to have attorneys to safeguard the integrity of the results.”

In addition to his work as an attorney, Shults writes about election law at his blog, Florida Election Law Issues. Here’s a primer from Shults on just some of the issues that might come into play this year:

Voter challenges:

Any voter or poll watcher can challenge the right of another voter to cast a ballot. Someone wishing to challenge a voter at the polling place during early voting or on election day must submit an affidavit to the precinct clerk or inspector outlining the basis for the challenge before the casting of the challenged vote, or the challenge can be made by delivering the affidavit to the supervisor of elections’ office no sooner than 30 days before the election.

The challenged voter will be permitted to vote by provisional ballot, and in most circumstances, the local canvassing board will determine the validity of the challenge.

Challenges to an absentee ballot voter’s certificate:

The outside of an absentee ballot envelope contains a statement called a “voter certificate.” The voter certificate must be signed by the voter with a signature that matches the signature on file at the supervisor’s office.

Challenges based on a defect in the voter certificate (e.g. the signature doesn’t match) must be made before the ballot is removed from the envelope and the challenge must be filed with the canvassing board and specify the precinct, the ballot and the reason why the challenger believes the ballot is illegal.

Recounts:

Recounts of ballots are triggered in two instances:

  • If the first ballot count shows that a candidate was defeated or a ballot measure was approved or rejected by one-half of 1 percent or less of the votes cast, a machine recount of all ballots cast for the race or measure will occur.
  • If the machine recount described shows that a candidate was defeated or a ballot measure was approved or rejected by one-quarter of 1 percent or less of the votes cast, a manual recount of the overvotes and undervotes cast for the race or measure will occur. A vote contained on a ballot initially identified as an overvote or undervote shall be counted if there is a clear indication on the ballot that the voter has made a definite choice. This manual recount will occur unless the losing candidate requests in writing that a recount not be made or the number of overvotes and undervotes is fewer than the number of votes needed to change the outcome of the election.

(An “overvote” occurs when a voter has marked a vote for two or more persons for the same office or more than one answer to a ballot question, and the machine tabulator records no vote for the office or question. An “undervote” happens when a voter did not make any choice for an office or ballot question, and the machine tabulator records no vote for the office or question).

Election contests:

An election contest is a lawsuit, which challenges the certification of an election outcome. An election contest cannot be used to challenge Florida House or Senate results. These races are solely within the jurisdiction of the Florida Legislature and challenges to certification are governed by the rules of the applicable house. And although congressional races can be challenged through an election contest lawsuit, the federal Senate and House of Representatives bear the ultimate constitutional responsibility to adjudicate disputed congressional elections.

In other cases, an election contest lawsuit can be brought by an unsuccessful candidate or any voter or taxpayer. The suit must be filed within 10 days after certification of the election.

The grounds for contesting an election are:

  • Misconduct, fraud or corruption on the part of any election official or any member of the canvassing board sufficient to change or place in doubt the result of the election.
  • Ineligibility of the successful candidate for the nomination or office in dispute.
  • Receipt of a number of illegal votes or rejection of a number of legal votes sufficient to change or place in doubt the result of the election.
  • Proof that any elector, election official or canvassing board member was given or offered a bribe or reward in money, property or any other thing of value for the purpose of procuring the successful candidate’s nomination or election or determining the result on any question submitted by referendum.

Public inspection of ballots:

Florida public records law and its election code treat ballots as public records subject to public inspection and examination upon request. Any member of the public is entitled to inspect any or all of the ballots, but only an employee of a supervisor of elections can touch the actual ballots.

A ballot inspection might occur before the deadline for filing an election contest suit. If an inspection is requested before the contest deadline, the supervisor must make a reasonable effort to notify all candidates of the inspection and allow them to attend the inspection.

Voting system audits:

After the certification of all elections, the local canvassing board is required to immediately conduct either a manual audit or an automated, independent audit of the voting systems.

The manual audit must be for one randomly selected race in at least 1 percent but no more than 2 percent of randomly selected precincts. The manual audit must occur in public.

The automated, independent audit is a public automated tally of votes cast in all races in 20 percent of precincts, selected at random.

The local canvassing board must then report the results of the audit to the Secretary of State. The results of the audit have no legal effect on the outcome or certification of the election, although the results could be used as evidence in an election challenge or contest lawsuit.

Free TXT Shield app from Kirk-Pinkerton blocks texting while driving

October 22nd, 2014

Everyone knows it’s stupid and dangerous to text while driving, an now, in Florida, it’s even illegal. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean drivers are shutting off their cell phones any more often than they did before the ban, but TXT Shield, a new, free smart phone app from Kirk-Pinkerton, just might change all that.

The data is shocking. Even as the total number of traffic fatalities in America has declined, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that the number of fatalities caused by “distracted driving” has actually increased.

One big reason? Texting. The Traffic Safety Administration found that texting while driving increases one’s “crash risk” by a factor of 23. Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. Doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re driving at 55 miles per hour, you can drive the length of a football field in 4.6 seconds.

Stats like those led the Florida Legislature to ban texting while driving in 2013, but it’s unclear if the measure is having the impact lawmakers hoped for. In the law’s first year, police only cited 1,800 drivers for violating the rule, way fewer than more mundane citations like the failure to dim one’s lights.

“I was shocked to find out that distracted driving contributes to 1.5 million car accidents a year,” says Kirk-Pinkerton CEO and personal injury attorney Bill Robertson. The firm wanted to help find a solution, and so Kirk-Pinkerton reached out to an independent software developer with a cool idea: How about an app that disables texting while a phone is in motion?

The result is TXT Shield, a new, free Android app that disables texting whenever your phone detects that you are moving at a speed greater than 10 miles per hour. You don’t ever have to turn the app on or off—it will automatically kick in whenever you’re on the road and then shut off when you come to a stop. An iPhone version is in the works, and will also be available for free soon.

TXT Shield is particularly useful for parents of young drivers who want to make sure their kids are keeping their eyes on the road.

“Kids in particular are addicted to their phones, and we want to make sure they don’t endanger themselves or anyone else on the road, just like we do our best to prevent them from drinking and driving,” says Robertson. “This app allows us to do something to prevent texting altogether. At a young age, kids think they’re bulletproof and that nothing bad will ever happen to them. We need to protect them from themselves and protect our families from them as well.”

Worried about missing texts from your boss or your spouse? While the app blocks any incoming text message, it will also automatically send a response alerting the person texting you that you are occupied and will get back to him or her later.

It’s a perfect, simple app that’s making a difference in the fight against distracted driving. TXT Shield is saving lives.

Helping Our Heroes

July 28th, 2014

Kirk Pinkerton is Helping Our Heroes in an effort to bring together local executives with veterans in the Sarasota-Bradenton area who are unable to find work. The Helping Our Heroes effort is spearheaded by Bill Robertson of the Kirk-Pinkerton Law Firm and Host of Let’s Talk Law on WSRQ Radio.

helping heroes

To learn more about the Helping Our Heroes effort, tune in to WSRQ Talk Radio on the last Friday of every month. You can also visit the Helping Our Heroes page on Sarasota Talk Radio’s website for more information about the effort, podcasts, our Veteran of the Month, and local companies that hire veterans.

PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEYS

April 3rd, 2013

Where a good recovery is no accident…

When an accident or personal injury occurs, you may suddenly find yourself facing complicated medical decisions along with mounting medical bills, loss of income and a complete disruption of your life. The personal injury lawyers at Kirk-Pinkerton, P.A. can help you deal with the fallout from such a tragic event and the difficult legal complexities that go along with it. For more information, watch the videos below, or view our areas of expertise.

BP Oil Spill Details>>

                                  

William E. Robertson, Personal Injury Lawyer


                                  

				

Hip Devices Continue To Cause Harm

October 3rd, 2011

A recent New York Times article highlighted the fast rate of hip implant failures in the United States.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/01/health/01hip.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=hip%20surgery%20shows%20signs&st=cse)

The article notes that “[a]ll orthopedic implants, regardless of their composition, shed debris as they wear. But researchers say they believe that the particles released by some all-metal hips pose a special threat because scavenger cells dispatched by the body to neutralize the debris convert it into biologically active metallic ions. In some patients, a chain reaction begins that can destroy tissue and muscle.” Unfortunately, this failure was not a complete surprise.  “More than a decade ago, some researchers had warned that the hips shed tiny pieces of metallic debris that posed potential health threats to patients. ”

If you have a DePuy or other brand of metal hip implant, please call Bill Robertson today.  Bill’s direct dial phone number is 941.364.2433.

 

FDA Warning About Vaginal Mesh

September 19th, 2011

On July 13, 2011, the FDA issued a new advisory warning about plastic surgical mesh used during transvaginal surgeries to correct common female gynecological problems.  The surgical mesh is made from porous synthetic material and is permanently implanted to reinforce the weakened vaginal wall to repair pelvic organ prolapse or to support the urethra to treat stress urinary incontinence.  Physicians in the U.S. perform about 75,000 surgeries utilizing these mesh products each year.  From 2008 to 2010, the FDA received more than 1,500 Adverse Event Reports related to complications associated with the plastic mesh.

Some of these serious complications include:

  • Infection
  • Extreme Pelvic Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Dyspareunia
  • Erosion/Protrusion of Mesh through the Vaginal Wall
  • Vaginal Scarring/Deformity
  • Multiple Surgeries to Remove imbedded mesh
  • Urinary Problems

Studies indicate that about 10% of women who have the mesh placed transvaginally experience mesh erosion within 12 months of surgery and that more than half require additional surgeries to remove the mesh.  Mesh erosion can require multiple surgeries to repair and can be debilitating for some women.  In some cases, even multiple surgeries will not resolve the complications.

Thousands of women suffering pelvic organ prolapse are treated with plastic mesh each year, but reports indicate surgery can often be performed safely and effectively without the need for mesh.   The FDA  plans to convene an advisory committee of experts this Fall to determine whether to ban the mesh.

If you or a loved one have suffered a serious complication following mesh-repair surgery for pelvic organ prolapse or stress urinary incontinence, please contact Bill Robertson for information about your legal rights.

Ruling against in-fill project exposes vulnerability of anti-sprawl efforts in coastal communities under current growth rules

April 14th, 2011

A recent ruling by an Administrative Law Judge on a Manatee County in-fill project raises questions about the viability of anti-sprawl efforts in coastal communities. According to the case summary and news reports, the judge determined that the approval of a Comprehensive Plan Map change by Manatee County was not in compliance with state law because the map change increases residential development density in an area subject to coastal flooding. It is unclear what effect the ruling will have upon efforts by Manatee and Sarasota Counties to curb suburban sprawl into eastward rural lands, where development is often less expensive and easier. The counties have attempted to encourage in-fill and redevelopment projects with a combination of regulations (such as urban service boundaries) and the adoption of incentives (such as the Manatee County “encouragement zones”). The challenge and defeat of this project (led by nearby property owners opposed to the more intense development) adds another element of risk to the cost and predictability challenges policymakers have sought to reduce in an effort to encourage investment in the urban areas of coastal Florida. The timing of the ruling is significant, as Florida’s sprawl-producing growth management regulations cited in the decision are being scrutinized by the Florida Legislature, which has cited such cases as evidence of the need for reform.

Robinson Farms Decision

 

Florida Justice Association Legislative Updates

April 10th, 2011

The Florida Justice Association has provided video updates of the current legislative session.  Here are links to the five videos which have thus far been posted:

Video One

Video Two

Video Three

Video Four

Video Five