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Stuart Grossman says he was outraged when he read a copy of Feinberg's missive. "If this is not extortion, then surely it is an abuse of process," read a letter Grossman addressed to the Florida Bar on May 8, 1989. Grossman injected the prestige of his office into the letter, stating that he was writing "as an attorney and member of the Florida Bar Board of Governors." He disclosed that he was a personal friend of Levine's and asked the bar association to investigate Feinberg's letter. He also took it upon himself to report to the bar association the problems Feinberg had with General Master Wilson, and complained that, procedurally, Feinberg had made a mistake in writing Judge Simon directly to ask for a hearing on her motion for increased child support. Not only was Grossman not acting in the capacity of Levine's attorney, but he had never examined the court file or read any of the settlement agreements between Levine and Feinberg and wasn't present when any of Feinberg's alleged misconduct occurred.
Levine later admitted that it was he who wrote the initial draft of the letter Grossman sent to the Florida Bar; he added his name as a co-complainant.
Because Grossman had extensive contacts among Miami-area attorneys, the complaint was transferred to the Orlando bar office to avoid any possible conflict of interest. Several months later, Levine initiated a separate complaint against Feinberg, alleging many of the same infractions Grossman had already outlined. Because Levine isn't as well known as Grossman, that complaint was not forwarded out of town. So while Grossman's complaint against Feinberg was pending in Orlando, she also had to contend with an almost identical complaint lodged by Levine in Miami.
Stuart Grossman and Paul Levine have been close friends since they went to law school together. Grossman is the godfather of Levine's son from his second marriage. In his eighteen years of practice, Grossman has established himself as one of the top personal-injury/medical-malpractice attorneys in the state. Recently he was elected to a third term on the Florida Bar's powerful Board of Governors. He recently helped lead the fight to open the bar association's disciplinary system to public scrutiny, by striking down immunity provisions in a complaint process that had allowed attorneys to make frivolous allegations against their brethren without being held accountable.
While his reputation in the courtroom is that of a fierce litigator, Grossman also understands the subtleties of quiet persuasion. For example, rather than consent immediately to an interview for this story, he first telephoned a friend, fellow attorney Sanford L. Bohrer, who often represents New Times in legal matters. He asked Bohrer to call the newspaper's editor and vouch for Grossman as a man of high ethical standards. He also wanted Bohrer to convey Grossman's belief that Brenda Feinberg was not to be trusted.
"Grossman's reputation is impeccable. He isn't a guy to cut corners," comments Bohrer, who did place a phone call to New Times's editor in response to Grossman's request. Grossman's tenure on the Board of Governors - as well as his standing as an attorney who lectures, teaches, and writes - gives him a very high standing in legal circles. "A lot of people know him," Bohrer says.
Bohrer adds that Grossman never asked him to halt research into the story. But clearly Grossman was willing to use an avenue of influence inaccessible to most people. "Knowing who to call is half the battle," Bohrer observes. And when it pertains to the legal community, chances are that Grossman knows who to call.
Grossman and Levine ardently defend the bar complaints they initiated against Brenda Feinberg. Most important, they point out, is the fact that they merely informed the bar of Feinberg's alleged misconduct. It was the Florida Bar itself, on the recommendation of its Orlando bar counsel David McGunegle and, later, a special grievance committee, that formally filed a complaint against Brenda Feinberg in Orlando. Specifically, the bar committee in Orlando looked into Feinberg's allegedly frivolous lawsuits against Levine and his parents, and whether the letter she sent Levine's parents was improper. After more than a year and two hearings, the complaint was dismissed. (Levine's Miami complaint was dismissed, as well. Because it was filed much later than the first, it was never investigated in depth.)
Feinberg now admits that the letter she sent to Sally and Stanley Levine was less than tactful. But she says she was under tremendous pressure at the time: Northwestern's tuition payment was due and because Feinberg didn't have the funds to cover it, Wendy risked losing her place. "In hindsight, would I have written a different letter? Of course I would have," says Feinberg. "But I really regret that Paul and his parents forced me to present this matter in court, when they knew they had an obligation to pay."
Without the tuition money, Feinberg says she was becoming desperate. Her second husband was in the midst of economic collapse and she had to borrow $15,000 from a friend in order to get Wendy into school in time to begin her freshman year. But Levine says he was sure Feinberg could come up with the money. "I never, ever had any doubt that she had the resources, either herself or through her contacts, to get that thing started," he says. "Did Wendy get crunched? No. What's the bottom line? Wendy's at Northwestern. She hasn't missed a day."