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01.01.2018
Florida’s Puerto Rican Lawyers offer a way for the island’s law students to continue studying.

Extending A Hand

Florida’s Puerto Rican Lawyers offer a way for the island’s law students to continue studying.

In 1992, Richard Robles was a commuter student at Florida International University when Hurricane Andrew struck southern Miami-Dade County . The eye passed over his home, which was destroyed, forcing Robles to move in with his friends nearby. A year later, he got his bachelor’s degree in business from FIU.

Robles recalled the experience last fall, nearly two months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, leaving a large portion of the population struggling for food, shelter, clean water and electricity.

Among those affected by Maria were students at all three law schools in Puerto Rico. “Some can’t even get to school because they don’t have transportation or their roads are shut down” says Robles, a Miami bankruptcy attorney and founding member of the Puerto Rican Bar Associations of Florida. “Studies become secondary when you are trying to survive”.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Robles and his colleagues  at the Puerto Rican Bar worried that law students on the island would fall behind or quiet school amid the devastation. Working with law schools in Puerto Rico and the U.S., the organization arranged to relocate students temporarily to the mainland so that they could continue their legal studies.

In October, about 30 second and third-year law students from Puerto Rico resettle at four mainland law schools: Florida State University, Touro Law Center in New York, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Buffalo. The students received tuition waivers.

The Bar Association also established a scholarship fund to help pay for the students’ travel, housing and other expenses.

“We don’t want them to abandon their careers “ Robles says. “This gets their minds out of what’s going on” with recovery efforts. “They can focus on their studies and eventually go back.”

Bar’s Beginning

Richard Robles, 46, was born in New York and raised in Homestead by parents from Puerto Rican descent. As an undergraduate student at Florida International University, Robles got involved in the schools’ Puerto Rican association. There, he met Luis De Acosta, president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of south Florida.

The two stayed in in touch as Robles went on to get his law degree from Seton Hall University and then as he started a bankruptcy and real estate law practice in Miami.

In 2003, De Rosa persuaded Robles to form a new professional association for lawyer of Puerto Rican descent in Florida. At the time more than 700.000 Puerto Ricans lived in the state, “and the number was continuing to grow”, Robles says.

Legal education has long been a focus of the group. Early on, it sought to increase law school’s enrollment among Puerto Ricans by fostering mentoring relationships between lawyers and students.

Five years ago, it began holding a moot court competition to highlight constitutional and civil rights issues that arise from Puerto Rico’s status as U.S. territory.

The Bar Association takes the view that Puerto Ricos’s territorial status is inferior to that of states and should end. (The island has been a U.S. territory since 1898.)

“Independence is fine if that’s what people of Puerto Rico want. Or statehood is fine” says Anthony Suarez, an Orlando trial attorney and former state legislator. “But what we can’t have is an intermediate position indefinitely”.

In 2014, Suarez became president of the Puerto Rican Bar, the first from outside south Florida to lead the organization. This year, Suarez will turn over the reins to Marie Masson, a Puerto Rico native and workers’ comp attorney in central Florida.

Tuiton Relief

After Hurricane Maria, the Florida State University College of Law took in six students of Puerto Rico for a tuition-fee semester. Under an agreement with the legal education division of the American Bar Association, the students could take up seven credits of courses, including seminars and independent study. The credits will transfer to their home schools in Puerto Rico.

FSU law dean Erin O’Connor says she only did what other would do for her and her students, noting that earlier in the hurricane season “when it looked like we were going to be hit hard”, law deans elsewhere in the U.S. offered to help. “It was the right  thing to do, and everyone here has been so welcoming and supportive of the students,” she says.

Florida Trend, January 1, 2018

 



11.21.2014
The well ran dry for the Bella Luna Condominium Association.About a quarter of its residents were in default on maintenance dues, creditors were battling the association in court, new lawsuits were in the pipeline, and it had one day left before Hialeah planned to disconnect its water supply over nearly $453,000 in unpaid bills. [more]

By: Samantha Joseph, Daily Business Review

The well ran dry for the Bella Luna Condominium Association.About a quarter of its residents were in default on maintenance dues, creditors were battling the association in court, new lawsuits were in the pipeline, and it had one day left before Hialeah planned to disconnect its water supply over nearly $453,000 in unpaid bills.With one business day left before losing utilities, the association took the unusual step of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.When it dispatched attorney Richard Robles to file the paperwork, it became one of fewer than three dozen condo associations since 1995 to file bankruptcy in the Southern District of Florida.

"The law says they can't file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but in this particular case Chapter 11 was a very useful thing,"

said Robles of Richard R. Robles P.A. in Miami.He argued the association had no assets or revenue because its income, and the complex's common elements, belonged to residents. He asked the court to slash debt, reassign the utilities tab from the association to homeowners and allow higher assessments.East of the Palmetto Expressway near Okeechobee Road, Bella Luna was supposed to collect $200 per unit in maintenance fees for each of the 100 units at the condo complex on West 24th Street in Hialeah. But with a 25 percent delinquency rate, the monthly revenue was $15,000, or 75 percent of normal.Robles' petition included a plan to raise maintenance fees to $250 and reduce delinquency to bring in $20,000 per month in the first year and $21,250 monthly the following year.The proposal aimed to streamline the association's operations and end years of legal battles with creditors threatening new litigation.One secured creditor, Association Financial Services Inc., already had won a judgment of more than $326,000 for unpaid loans and other debts. The two sides entered a post-judgment settlement, but the fluctuating payments of $3,000 to $7,000 per month were too high for the association, so Bella Luna's bankruptcy filing sought fixed monthly payments of $2,307.Unsecured creditors also were lining up to collect nearly $330,000 for maintenance work, guard services and legal representation. Plus, collection agencies hired to collect dues for the association had turned on it, demanding money for their own unpaid bills.But it was action from the city that forced Bella Luna's hand and pushed it to find a way to cover the unpaid utilities.

"They needed to be streamlined. There were way too many expenses,"

Robles said.

"It doesn't always work. Some associations file but they can't be confirmed for some reason or another. This one worked because there were agreements entered with the city of Hialeah."

To pay the city, Bella Luna passed a special assessment of about $4,529 per unit—essentially transferring the water bill from the association to residents—and giving the city lien rights on delinquent properties.

"It was unusual but fair, and it made a big difference,"

Robles said.The move paid off Nov. 12 when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Laurel Isicoff confirmed Bella Luna's Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan, freeing the group from hundreds of thousands in expenses and slashing about 85 percent of the unsecured debt.

Savvy Associations

"Not doing anything and waiting for balances to balloon can get associations into a hole that they can't climb out of,"

said Donna DiMaggio Berger, a Becker & Poliakoff shareholder who focuses on community associations.

"Associations are getting a lot more proactive."

In the wake of the housing crash, associations across Florida scrambled to collect dues and cover expenses in one of the hardest-hit markets. Thousands flocked to training sessions for recovery advice, and law firms offered hundreds of free training sessions for board members.The running theme: Act early to avert financial crises.

"Our recommendation to our clients is move forward. In the past when there was a lot of equity in the property, the feeling was that banks had superior loans and would do the heavy lifting,"

said DiMaggio Berger, who was not involved in the Bella Luna case.

"But associations have gotten a lot smarter about not waiting for the bank with superior liens to foreclose. They're doing it themselves, going in, taking title subject to the outstanding mortgage and renting the property."

By creating a plan for its largest debt, Bella Luna has new room to eliminate liabilities and collect operating capital.

"Now it's smooth sailing,"

Robles said.

"The savings have been dramatic."

08.07.2014
On August 7, 2014, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John K. Olson dismissed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of Debtor DocAssist, LLC in favor of the minority members Rolando and Alex Barberis. The minority members had been litigating a case in state court and had obtained a favorable ruling invalidating certain governance actions. [more]

On August 7, 2014, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John K. Olson dismissed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of Debtor DocAssist, LLC in favor of the minority members Rolando and Alex Barberis. The minority members had been litigating a case in state court and had obtained a favorable ruling invalidating certain governance actions. The majority members then placed DocAssist, LLC into bankruptcy under Chapter 11. The court applied the Rooker-Feldman doctrine determining that federal courts are not free to overrule decisions of state courts. The Court also found that collateral estoppel prevented the re-litigation of corporate governance issues.

Richard R. Robles, P.A. served as counsel for the minority members Rolando and Alex Barberis.

Full Opinion: In re DocAssist, LLC, 2014 WL 3955062 (Bankr.S.D.Fla.2014)

03.20.2014
On March 12, 2014, the Court confirmed the Chapter 11 plan of Rookery Bay Business Park, LLC. The confirmed plan eliminated a total of $9,920,000 of debt. [more]

On March 12, 2014, the Court confirmed the Chapter 11 plan of Rookery Bay Business Park, LLC. The confirmed plan eliminated a total of $9,920,000 of debt. Of this amount secured debt was reduced from $9.75 million to $2.67 million. Unsecured non-priority debt was reduced from $2.85 million to $10,000.

Richard R. Robles, P.A. represented the Debtor, Rookery Bay Business Park, LLC.

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