Miami-Dade Bar task force to help Surfside victims and families with non-litigation work
Image via AP.

"There’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape that has to be cut through."

The Miami-Dade Bar today announced a new task force to provide free non-litigation services to the victims and families of the Champlain Towers South condo collapse in Surfside that killed at least 97 people.

Shortly after Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman appointed the Miami-Dade Bar to manage non-litigation pro bono services for those affected by the June 24 collapse through its “Put Something Back” program, the organization now has a working group in place.

Services the task force will offer, a Bar press note said, include real property dispute assistance, insurance matters, probate issues, sourcing identification information, recreating files, opening estates and “all associated transactional legal work.”

That’s just a general overview of the work the group expects to do, Miami-Dade Bar Executive Director Bret Berlin told Florida Politics.

“The community is suffering, and the Bar’s role is to serve the community, so we’ll help in situations as they arise,” he said. “There’s a lot of hardship. Records are missing. People can’t access their insurance policies without IDs, which are missing. Vehicles and properties that belong to people are missing. There’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape that has to be cut through, and we have very experienced, knowledgeable attorneys in Miami-Dade who have stepped up to the plate and want to help the community, and we’re matching them up with victims, their families and survivors, many of whom have nowhere to live now.”

Leading the task force are Marc Pugliese of Pugliese Law Firm, Karen Landis of Dade Legal Aid, Thomas Graham of Leesfield Scolaro and Elizabeth Hughes of Greenspoon Marder.

“On behalf of the Miami-Dade Bar, we appreciate Judge Hanzman’s order permitting the creation of this necessary and impactful committee to serve our South Florida community,” Pugliese said. “As attorneys, it’s our duty to answer a calling of service to others during times of need. We encourage other attorneys to lend a helping hand to the victims and families of this unimaginable tragedy.”

Akerman partner Michael Goldberg received Hanzman’s order July 16, two days after the judge ordered the process to sell the site of the collapsed condo for what could be around $100 million, per court records.

The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that Hanzman gave Goldberg the authority to make financial decisions on behalf of Champlain condo owners, including granting up to $10,000 in insurance money to help them find new homes and up to $2,000 more to cover funeral costs.

On Wednesday, Hanzman said families and victims who suffered losses will receive at least $150 million in initial compensation, including $50 million in insurance, plus proceeds from the site’s sale.

Eventually, much of the Miami-Dade Bar task force’s work will evolve into litigation, Berlin said, and at that point the group will have to back off.

“That’s not something that is appropriate for us to manage,” he said.

But until then, there is a lot of need, he continued, and all South Florida lawyers interested in lending a hand are welcome.

“For over 50 years, we’ve run Dade Legal Aid, which already provided this kind of support to families, (but) to now be able to do it in an official capacity to help other members of our community who are also in need — it’s an honor that the court has entrusted the Miami-Dade Bar to coordinate this activity, and we’re honored to be able to step up and help.”

Criminal and civil investigations into the collapse are already open and will “continue over a long period,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has said.

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has said that her office will bring the issue before grand jurors.

Lawyers interested in getting involved in the Miami-Dade Bar’s Champlain Towers assistance committee can email [email protected] to help.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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