With the success of his first two novels, To Speak for the Dead and Night Vision, mystery writer Paul Levine's future as an author seems bright. He has abandoned the practice of law, a career that not long ago earned him an annual salary of nearly $180,000, and for the time being, all of his energies are devoted to writing. He's just completed his third novel, which will be released soon, and is at work on book number four. Someday he hopes Hollywood will smile kindly upon his labors and do for him what it has already done for fellow legal scribes Scott Turow and Alan Dershowitz. In the meantime, as he searches for new tales of intrigue and deception to set against a wicked pastel backdrop, Levine might want to consider the following idea for his next literary project:
Like all of Levine's novels, the story is set in present-day Miami. The two main characters are attorneys. Formerly husband and wife, they are the parents of a twenty-year-old daughter and an eighteen-year-old, very messy divorce. Each parent accuses the other of illegal behavior. Each attempts to have the other disbarred. The ex-husband enlists the aid of his best friend, a powerful member of the Florida Bar; the ex-wife counters by secretly taping a meeting with the ex-husband at a posh Miami hotel, a meeting during which he allegedly tries to extort a settlement agreement from her. The plot is peppered with threats and insults, a string of nasty lawsuits, contentious court proceedings, allegations of corruption, irate judges, and special investigations. Instead of allowing the divorce to terminate their relationship, they continue to pit themselves against each other, wielding their knowledge of the law like a club.
Tragic in tone and outcome - their battle never really ends - such a book has all the makings of a best seller. The only question: Is Paul Levine ready to write his autobiography?
In his first novel, Levine wrote that the Dade courthouse is a place where buzzards endlessly circle, "some on wings and some in Porsches." In the real-life realm of those vultures, on the eighth floor, to be exact, Judge Peter Capua has before him a lawsuit filed by Levine's ex-wife, Brenda Feinberg. She is suing Levine's best friend, Stuart Grossman, a highly regarded medical malpractice attorney and one of only 50 lawyers who sit on the governing board that oversees more than 37,000 attorneys in the State of Florida. Feinberg alleges that Grossman abused his power as a member of the Florida Bar Board of Governors by threatening to end her career with possible disbarment, while Levine pressured her to drop her claims for increased child support for their daughter Wendy.
While Capua decides the merit of Feinberg's lawsuit, another, related chapter in the story is unfolding in the state capital, where both Levine and Grossman are under investigation by the Florida Bar for making allegedly frivolous complaints against Feinberg. The special investigator is also examining statements Levine made in 1989 in which he told Feinberg that he and Grossman had control over the pending investigation.
A bar complaint is a serious matter, and defending oneself against one is expensive and time-consuming. If substantiated, a complaint can lead to various penalties, including suspension from the practice of law or complete disbarment. During her first eighteen months as an attorney, Brenda Feinberg was the subject of three bar complaints: one initiated jointly by Levine and Grossman, one by Levine independently, and one by Levine's former attorney, Albert Caruana. After Feinberg hired attorney Steven Abramowitz, Levine leveled a complaint against him, as well.
All of the bar complaints were eventually dismissed.
"That Paul has done this to me and sent me through these hurdles is unconscionable," Feinberg says. "And I think it is unconscionable for someone in Stuart's position. They really tried to take away my ability to care for my children, which is to strip me of my license. I think they really got a thrill out of it. They really would like to see me down and out."
Levine contends that his ex-wife is nothing more than a bitter and obsessed woman who is using the legal system to extract personal revenge. If the controversy stems from a debate about who should pay for their daughter's college education, he says there is no controversy - he's paying $19,000 per year for her to attend Northwestern University. The only reason Feinberg is suing Stuart Grossman, Levine claims, is because she knows it will attract media attention that will embarrass both him and Grossman. "What this lawsuit is, is star fucking," says Levine. "It's trying to get in the limelight, trying to manipulate the news media."
Besides her pending lawsuit against Grossman, in the past two years, Feinberg has also sued Levine and Levine's parents for fraud. She's lodged her own complaints to the bar association about Grossman's and Levine's conduct. She's threatened to file a bar complaint against Levine's attorney, and she's sued one of her own former attorneys, Andy Lienoff, for malpractice.
"I don't know who's harassing who," says Albert Caruana, who bowed out as Levine's attorney two years ago. "All I know is that what should have been a very straightforward litigation [over child support] has resulted in all these ancillary proceedings."
Adds Abramowitz, one of Feinberg's former attorneys: "The case just started feeding on itself. I sympathize for Brenda. I sympathize for Paul. I sympathize for the child. I sympathize with all the lawyers, including myself, that got involved in this case."
In 1967, when Paul Levine met Brenda Slutsky (Feinberg is the last name of her second husband), they were both attending Penn State University. Paul, who came from a small, central Pennsylvania town called Hughesville, was the sports editor of the student newspaper; Brenda, who was from nearby Allentown worked in the paper's advertising department. "It was a small office," Feinberg remembers. "I'd have to go past him to get my coat, and he noticed me. He was nice." Levine, she recalls, would flirt or tell jokes. On April 6, 1968, they went out on their first date, to a restaurant outside the town of State College. They had Chateaubriand and cre me de menthe parfait, Feinberg remembers. She was impressed.
They were engaged in 1969. By then Levine was editor of the school paper and had his sights set on a career in journalism. They graduated together in June of that year, with Feinberg earning her bachelor's degree in Spanish in only three years. When they wed on July 27, 1969, she was twenty. He was 21. "I saw greatness in Paul," says Feinberg. He wanted to be a journalist and help change the world. "I thought I was marrying Walter Cronkite, and we would travel around the world and never have material possessions and just be real bright and intellectual and political."
After a honeymoon in Puerto Rico, the couple moved to Miami. Paul had taken a job at the Miami Herald, where he would be one of the youngest reporters on the newspaper's staff. In moving to Miami, Brenda gave up a fellowship to Temple University in Philadelphia, which would have paid for her master's degree in Spanish. Feinberg says Paul's parents told her not to worry about money; if she wanted to attend graduate school in Miami, they would pay for it. Sally and Stanley Levine often made such offers, Feinberg says. It wasn't that they were wealthy - they owned a small department store in Hughesville and lived above the store - but they saved every penny they could for their only son.
Paul and Brenda's first home together was on Galen Drive in Key Biscayne. Like most newlyweds, they had plans about how their lives would progress. Paul would work at the Herald. Brenda would teach part-time and begin taking graduate courses at the University of Miami, working toward her master's degree. They would wait five years before starting a family. But not long after their first wedding anniversary passed, Brenda was surprised to learn she was pregnant.
"I considered having an abortion," Feinberg recalls, "even though they were not legal in Florida. I thought I was much too young. I cried at my doctor's. And then Paul and I talked. And Paul and I agreed to have the baby. I would have had an abortion if he had even hinted that was what he wanted. But he never really suggested that."
It was a difficult pregnancy. Feinberg became terribly ill, and when Wendy Levine was born on April 9, 1971, doctors discovered the infant suffered from tracheomalacia. The cartilage around her airway was very soft and could collapse without warning, causing the baby to suffocate. Because excessive crying could cause the collapse, the new parents weren't to let the child cry. If the cartilage did collapse, they were warned, the baby would be unable to scream for help. Before they were allowed to take Wendy home from the hospital, each parent was instructed how to perform CPR on a child. The condition was likely to persist for more than a year.
Those were scary times. Feinberg remembers having Wendy's crib next to her bed at night. She learned to sleep light and awake often. There is always a unique bond between a mother and her first-born child, but with Wendy's problems, Feinberg says, she developed a "special closeness."
Paul, meanwhile, had enrolled at the University of Miami School of Law. At the Herald he had become the paper's courthouse reporter, covering trials and legal issues. "I just got fascinated by it," he says now. "I thought these lawyers looked like they were having so much fun." Feinberg says she was supportive of the abrupt change, but less than thrilled. She had passed up the fellowship at Temple so Paul could move to Miami and work at the Herald. "I had reversed my whole life so he could do this very important thing," she says, "and then it turned out he was not really the reporter type." By this time Paul's parents were financially supporting the new parents, as well as footing the bill for Levine's tuition.
Despite the changes in their lives, 1973 held the promise of being a very good year for the Levines. Paul finished his law studies, passed the bar exam, and joined a Miami firm. Wendy's medical condition improved substantially, and Brenda found she was enjoying motherhood. That fall, when the couple took their two-year-old daughter on a trip to Pennsylvania to visit her grandparents and enjoy homecoming festivities at Penn State, Feinberg says she was thinking it might be time to have a second child.
Levine couldn't stay long; he needed to get back to Miami to work, but Feinberg decided to extend her vacation a few extra days so she could spend time with her parents. Feinberg says Levine telephoned her after he arrived in Miami. He had startling news, he wanted a divorce. She was dumbfounded. "I felt like my heart broke," she says. "I had never thought of divorce. Paul wanted to marry me so badly." Upset and confused, Feinberg remained with her parents, and several days later, Levine called again. This time, according to Feinberg, he said he was sorry; he didn't know why he had asked for a divorce. He said he missed her. He missed Wendy. He wanted to know when she would come home. It was like waking up from a nightmare, Feinberg says. She told him she'd come home immediately. Levine reportedly said he'd meet her at the airport.
Relieved but still anxious, Brenda stepped off the plane in Miami with Wendy in tow. She stood at the gate, searching the terminal for Paul. No sign of him. Then, after a few minutes, a man walked up to her and asked if she was Brenda Levine. Paul must have been tied up at the office, she thought to herself, and he's sent someone else to pick her up. Yes, she told the stranger, she was Brenda. The man handed her a piece of paper and walked away. It was a summons. Paul wasn't coming to the airport. He had filed for a divorce. She threw the paper in the trash and hailed a cab. When she got home, Levine had already moved out.
Levine says he doesn't recall how he asked for a divorce. As to why he wanted a divorce: "The woman was an overbearing, aggravating woman," he says. "We could not get along. We argued. Our personalities are 100 percent diametrically opposed. I couldn't stand her."
The divorce settlement was simple; Feinberg says Levine drafted the agreement himself. Neither of them had very much. He had only earned $13,000 in his first year as a lawyer. Feinberg was given a lump-sum alimony payment of $4350 and custody of Wendy. Levine received liberal visitation rights. He also agreed to pay $150 per month in child support for the first year, and $250 per month after that. Feinberg says she had sought to have Levine pay for her graduate studies, but he refused. Instead, she says, the negotiations centered on Wendy's college education. "I figured if they weren't giving me my college, I just wanted to make sure I would have the college for Wendy," she says.
The agreement stipulated that each parent had consented to pay for half of all schooling until Wendy reached the age of eighteen, and went on to state: "Should the child pursue higher education following graduation from high school, said benefits for the child shall hereunder continue until age 22 or termination of studies, whichever first occurs."
Believing she had secured half of Wendy's college tuition, Brenda signed the papers.
Wendy and Paul Levine have never been close. Every other Sunday, little Wendy would be dressed and waiting at the door for her father to arrive. More often than not, Brenda Feinberg says, he didn't. "I was trying to encourage him to really see her regularly," Feinberg says, "and then she'd sit and wait and he wouldn't show up." Feinberg complained, and court records show that on May 17, 1978, Levine gave up his rights to visitation. "Levine wasn't willing to make any commitment to visiting Wendy at all, Nard Helman, Feinberg's attorney at the time, stated in a deposition, "and basically threw the ball in [Feinberg's] court. Raise her, she's your daughter."
For nearly a year, Wendy and her father had no contact at all. Looking back on it, Levine blames his ex-wife. It was Feinberg, he says, who made it impossible for him to visit his daughter. But instead of asking a judge to enforce his visitation rights, he merely relinquished them. After Wendy's eighth birthday, Levine resumed regular visitation, although Feinberg claims that Wendy rarely, if ever, spent the night at her father's house in Gables-by-the-Sea. By this time Brenda and Paul had remarried and both were raising new families.
Wendy Levine says her most vivid early memories of her father and her paternal grandparents involve their constant quizzing about her college plans. "College was always the issue," she says by telephone from Evanston, Illinois, where she's attending Northwestern University, working toward a bachelor's degree in journalism. "They never came to ballet recitals or school plays, they just talked about college. College was the end-all of my existence with them." When she was ten, she recalls, her father sat her down in front of a video camera and questioned her about what colleges she was interested in.
Wendy says her father and her grandparents always told her they would take care of her college education. In fact a 1978 child-support agreement read, in part: "The minor child's paternal grandparents have paid all private schooling expenses in the past, continue to pay these expenses at the present time, and have expressed the desire to continue paying these expenses in the future."
She hated being caught in the middle of the flap over child support and her college education, Wendy says. But while she loves her father she's also angry at him and his friends for the legal gauntlet to which they've subjected her mother. "I think it's unfair. I think it's cruel. I think it's malicious," she says. "It didn't have to go this far. It's really sad. I definitely feel my mother is doing what she feels is right, what I feel is right. She's not after his money. She was just after what was needed to support me.
"I feel like he's always wanted to hurt my mother," Wendy adds. "But I don't think they realize how much it hurts me. He thought it was a personal attack on my mother, but it hurt me."
Alice Levine, Paul's second wife (the two recently divorced after sixteen years of marriage), characterizes Brenda Feinberg as a "master manipulator" who used Wendy to attack her ex-husband. "Her mother has ruthlessly used her through the years," says Alice Levine. Paul didn't attend his daughter's bat mitzvah, she explains, because Feinberg refused to allow him to bring Alice as a guest. "It was a premeditated insult, really calculated to keep me from going," Paul Levine says.
Alice Levine also says Feinberg acted like a jealous woman, and once attacked her in the locker room at Bodyworks, a gym where both women exercise. Feinberg scratched her neck, drawing blood. (Feinberg says she confronted Alice Levine because she said insulting things to Wendy.)
Paul Levine says the problems he had with his daughter were Feinberg's fault. It's understandable, he says, that Wendy sides with her mother, the person who raised her. "I am proud of my daughter," he says. "I love my daughter."
By 1978, according to court records, Paul Levine's annual income had increased to more than $100,000. Child-support payments, however, remained at $250 per month. Feinberg felt an increase was justified, and she petitioned the court. After long negotiations that involved Levine and his parents, Feinberg agreed to an additional $100 per month. She says the Levines told her that in addition to the small child-support increase, she wouldn't have to pay anything toward Wendy's college education, that Paul would pay half and his parents would take care of the other half.
A new agreement was drawn up. Nard Helman, Feinberg's attorney at the time, says it was clear to him, based on the wording of the agreement and his conversations with Levine, that all of Wendy's educational expenses, including college tuition and living expenses, would be paid by Levine and his parents.
In 1984 Levine voluntarily increased his child-support payments to $560 per month and reiterated in a letter to Feinberg that he would pay for Wendy's college tuition. "This will explain my plan for taking care of Wendy's current child support needs and, just as important, if not more so, her college expenses which I am morally, but not legally obligated to pay," Levine wrote in a letter dated May 26, 1984. "I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this matter, especially the imminence of college. Wendy will go off to school in five years. That will be here before we turn around." The letter goes on to mention the problems Levine saw among his friends as they tried to pay for their children's college education. "My goal is to set aside enough, starting now, to have at least two years of Wendy's college education in the bank by summer 1989," he wrote. "The second two years will then hopefully come out of current earnings, loans, or whatever is necessary." Levine also agreed to pitch in separately with occasional spending money for clothing and trips. Over the years he helped pay for her to take school-related trips to Israel, Hawaii, New York, and Europe.
But costs associated with rearing a child had escalated so much, Feinberg says, that even with the extras Levine was providing the $560 per month wasn't enough. (According to legislative guidelines, a person earning $30,000 annually would be obliged to pay $560 per month in child support.) In 1985 Feinberg requested that the court review Levine's financial records, as well as Wendy's needs, to determine if an increase was warranted. For a brief time, in retaliation to Feinberg's request, Levine - whose gross salary in 1985 was $167,000 and in 1986 was $177,000 - dropped his monthly checks back down to $350. While Feinberg waited for the court to act, she was evicted from her house because she was unemployed and her second husband was in financial ruin.
In preparation for the eventual child-support hearing, Feinberg's attorney, Steven Abramowitz, wanted to take depositions from Levine's parents. But instead of hearing from Sally or Stanley Levine, Abramowitz received a call from Paul Levine, who told him not to bother his parents. They were old and ill, and Levine says he felt extremely protective of them. But Abramowitz says he still felt Levine's actions were innapropriate. "I'm not in the habit of taking telephone calls from the opposing party and having him tell me which witnesses I could depose and not depose," Abramowitz says today. "When the subpoena was not withdrawn, I received a Florida Bar complaint from Paul Levine." That complaint was eventually dismissed on the grounds that Levine's parents were in fact relevant witnesses. Levine's actions, Abramowitz claims, constituted petty harassment. "Without question," he says, "it's annoying."
Also in 1985, after years of watching court proceedings from the sidelines, Brenda Feinberg enrolled, thanks to a student loans, in law school at the University of Miami. Wendy was fourteen at the time; she had a younger half-sister, and two older stepsisters. "I had to schedule classes around car pools," says Feinberg, who says she felt she needed a career to finally make herself financially independent. She graduated in 1988 and was admitted to the Florida Bar that year on Christmas Eve. "My goal was to help other women and children," she says now. "I always felt I needed to do something about the legal process. Something wasn't right in the system."
Feinberg's request for an increase in child support came before General Master Thomas Wilson in November 1988, three years after it was originally filed. The hearing lasted an entire day. Levine testified that his income had significantly dropped during the previous few years. He was only earning about $80,000 a year he said. He was forced out of a partnership at Morgan, Lewis and Bockius - a well-known Philadelphia law firm with offices in Miami - and was now working in Stuart Grossman's law firm, Grossman and Roth. Grossman himself testified that Levine was unenthused by his work; he didn't believe his employee's earning potential was all that good. "I'm telling you that I can't get the guy motivated," Grossman testified. Despite the unflattering testimony of Levine's boss, Wilson ordered that child support be increased to $700 per month.
Unsatisfied with the decision (she had requested $2100 monthly), Feinberg appealed, alleging that the general master had shown bias during the hearing when he called Wendy "a spoiled-rotten little kid who I think probably is an extremely manipulative child." Wilson also expressed his irritation with Feinberg during that hearing and later found her in contempt of court after she failed to appear at a subsequent hearing. Feinberg contended her presence at that hearing was not required. The contempt citation was eventually withdrawn, and Wilson recused himself from the case on February 28, 1989, because of a verbal argument he says he had with her concerning the case.
Wendy Levine, by this time a senior at Palmetto Senior High, was trying to decide on a college. She narrowed it down to three: Columbia University, Penn State, and Northwestern. Columbia rejected her application, but the other two schools accepted her. With both her parents' support, Wendy opted for Northwestern. Feinberg, as a matter of convenience, mailed off a $200 deposit to secure Wendy's place in the 1989 fall enrollment.
Divorced for more than fifteen years, contact between Feinberg and Levine was generally restricted to court appearances. In April 1989, after an appeal hearing concerning child support, Feinberg says she approached Levine on the courthouse steps and handed him a receipt for the Northwestern deposit. She asked how Levine planned to work out the tuition payment. "That's when he said, `Well, I'm not paying for college,'" Feinberg recalls. "I said, `What do you mean, you are not paying for college?' And he said, `Listen, you've got to stop coming after me. You're not getting college.'" According to Feinberg, Levine went on to say that if she didn't back away from her demands, he'd initiate a complaint against her with the Florida Bar.
Paul Levine says he doesn't remember any conversation about Wendy's college tuition on the steps of the courthouse. He doesn't recall how he came to inform Feinberg that he wasn't going to pay Wendy's tuition. And he denies ever threatening her with a bar complaint.
Instead of backing down, Feinberg took the 1973 and 1978 divorce agreements to Judge Stuart Simon and requested that he force Levine to pay her daughter's tuition. Simon refused, ruling that in his estimation, the agreements did not technically include college tuition; they referred to "schooling for minor child." Now that Wendy was eighteen, he reasoned, she was no longer a minor. Feinberg says the agreements were worded "for minor child" because at the time they were written, Wendy was three and seven years old, respectively. More important, Feinberg says, the agreements state that benefits will continue until Wendy is 22. And finally, she argues, if the original agreement was vague, it's Levine's fault because he wrote it.
But what amazed her about Simon's ruling, Feinberg says, was that the judge never held an evidentiary hearing to take testimony about the matter. Attorneys Edgar Lewis, who represented Feinberg during the divorce, and Nard Helman, who represented her in 1978, were each prepared to testify that the agreements included college. "It's clear, plain English," Lewis stated recently in a sworn deposition. And, he says, Levine knew the agreement included college. "Paul drafted the agreement," he says. "Paul signed the agreement. He knew very well what was in it."
Feinberg appealed the ruling, and she also filed a lawsuit against Levine on May 2, 1989, alleging that his failure to pay Wendy's tuition amounted to fraud. His repeated assurances that he and his parents would cover the costs of her daughter's college education, Feinberg claimed, had led her to accept less money in child support than she felt she was rightfully due. The next day she sent a letter to Levine's parents, demanding that they and their son live up to their agreements and that Levine increase monthly child-support payments to $1300. If Paul's parents rejected her demand, she wrote, it would cost them more money in the long run, and they, too, might be subject to a lawsuit.
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."
In March 1990, Feinberg filed a lawsuit against Sally and Stanley Levine, alleging they had violated their agreement to pay for Wendy's college education. By now she was submerged in her own legal actions. In addition to the lawsuit pending against Levine's parents, she earlier filed another, similar suit against Levine. She was appealing General Master Wilson's ruling to increase monthly child support. She was appealing the circuit judge's opinion that Levine was not obligated to pay Wendy's tuition. And she was defending herself against a pair of bar complaints.
She felt she had run out of options. "I couldn't stand it any more," Feinberg says now. "I couldn't stand my life any more. I couldn't think. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't live. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't work. It really took away my desire to practice law. I really have to say that I don't have that excitement in me, because I've seen what happens and how no one cared about Wendy. No judge said, `What about the child? Whose going to send her?'"
Even if she were to abandon her claims against Levine, there was no guarantee that he and Grossman would return the favor. Peter Ticktin, Feinberg's latest attorney, advised her not to capitulate to any of Levine's demands unless she could first get him to promise to see that the bar complaints against her were pursued no further. And Ticktin also instructed his client to record that promise on tape. That way she would be able to demonstrate that the complaints had been made in bad faith, and that they should be dismissed.
On May 10, 1990, Feinberg arrived early at the luxurious Grand Bay Hotel in Coconut Grove, a favorite meeting place for Levine and Grossman, whose offices were next door on South Bayshore Drive. As she waited amid the brass and the ferns of the mezzanine lounge, Feinberg was scared to death that somehow Levine would sense that she had tucked a small cassette recorder into her purse and would be taping every word of their conversation.
When he arrived, Levine handed Feinberg a copy of a new agreement: He would pay Wendy's college tuition, plus room and board, but no other form of child support. Feinberg would drop her lawsuits against Levine and his parents and swear never to sue them again. Levine would promise never to sue Feinberg.
The tape recorder was running: "My only concern," Feinberg says, "is still the basis for what we're together for, which is really the bar complaint."
Don't worry, Levine assured his ex-wife. "I really don't think it will do any good for us to get into it in detail," he was recorded as saying, "but I'm led to believe that it will not be a problem." He had nothing in writing, he said, but added, "I tend to believe what I've been told, that I have a certain amount of control over it."
Feinberg asked what he meant by "control."
"I'm really not going to go into that, but I have it and Stuart has it," Levine answered cryptically. "It is not a problem." Then he mentioned David McGunegle, the Florida Bar's Orlando counsel who investigated the complaint he and Grossman had made. "McGunegle would do anything Stuart wants him to do," Levine said tersely. "That's the bottom line here. That's the bottom line."
Would Levine be willing to put it in writing, to sign a promise that he would have the complaint against her dismissed if she signed this agreement? "I don't think you can put anything in writing that even mentions about this thing," Levine replied. "I think it is so inappropriate to tie the two of them together."
But, Levine said, he would inform the Florida Bar that all of the issues he'd raised against Feinberg had been resolved and that action by the bar association was no longer required. He would tell them, he assured Feinberg, that it all had been merely a "misunderstanding."
The last voice heard on the tape belongs to Paul Levine. "I'm glad to get this over," he is heard saying. "This got way out of hand."
David McGunegle says when he saw a transcript of the tape, which Feinberg had played at a bar grievance-committee hearing several months after she made it, he was shocked. "To me, when I first read that, I was a little bit thunderstruck," he says. "It doesn't paint me in a very flattering light." To Levine's suggestion that Stuart Grossman had "control" over the bar's disciplinary process, McGunegle responds: "I was amazed the statement was made. It rattled me, because anyone who knows me knows it's ludicrous." No member of the bar's board of governors has ever told him what to do during a bar investigation, McGunegle says.
In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that Grossman - who did not know McGunegle before the bar complaint was initiated - had any contact with the Orlando counsel or in any way tried to exercise influence over the way McGunegle handled the case. McGunegle himself says he never spoke to Grossman about it.
Levine, who maintains that the tape constitutes an invasion of his privacy and that Feinberg could be prosecuted for illegal wiretapping, says he only meant to say that as the people who had originally brought the complaint against Feinberg, he and Grossman could drop the matter if they wanted to. (McGunegle says that is incorrect, and that once a complaint has been filed, its fate is in the hands of the bar association.)
Levine also strenuously denies having had any intention of implying that he or his friend had any control over David McGunegle. "It was a poor choice of words," Levine says in retrospect. "It was very inarticulate."
Grossman says that when he learned of the tape and its contents, he was furious. "I called Paul," Grossman recalls. "I said, `Paul, why did you do that? Why would you do that to me?' And he said, `I don't remember saying that. If I did, I fucked up.'
"Then he fucked up," Grossman echoes. "And I'm bitter about it. And I'm angry about it. And I'm very disappointed about it, too. Who would have a right to play with my name behind my back?"
But Grossman blames Feinberg for reopening a case that finally seemed to have been settled. Whether because of the tape-recorded agreement or in spite of it, the specifics of the mezzanine meeting at the Grand Bay Hotel were being met: Levine is paying for his daughter's college expenses; the bar complaints against Feinberg were dismissed; the lawsuits against Levine and his parents were dropped. But after Feinberg filed suit against Grossman this past October, the Florida Bar assigned an independent investigator to re-examine the circumstances surrounding the entire matter.
If there's a victim in all of this, Grossman stresses, it's himself. He believed Brenda Feinberg was guilty of misconduct when she wrote a threatening letter to Levine's parents, so he initiated a complaint against her. That's all he did. And while Grossman feels it is proper for the Florida Bar to investigate any alleged wrongdoing by him or Levine (or, for that matter, by Feinberg herself; the grounds for the original complaints are currently being re-examined, too), he thinks Feinberg's suit against him is an entirely different matter.
"I feel like I'm being maliciously prosecuted," says Grossman, who stands accused of perjury, fraud, and of having conspired with Levine to force Feinberg to take less money in child support. "She's using me to get at Paul. There is no proof I did anything. I didn't do anything."
If Feinberg was pressured into a bad settlement, Grossman adds, she should petition the court to set it aside, on the grounds that she was under duress. And if she thinks she was wrongly accused in a bar complaint, he recommends that she should sue the Florida Bar, the agency that actually filed the complaint. Instead, he contends, Feinberg and Ticktin are attacking his name and reputation. "I'm being sued by alleged lawyers," he says.
And in a case that now seems to have no end, Levine and Grossman both promise there is more to come, including more bar complaints, a possible criminal investigation, and at least one more lawsuit. "I'm not finished yet with Mr. Ticktin and Ms. Feinberg," Grossman promises. "They made a mistake by suing me this time. And they will pay for this mistake. I will sue their ass off when this case is over with.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.