The following article from the 1/8/98, electronic edition of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Sun-Sentinel is part of an analysis to determine the similarities between the modus operandi of the Florida Bar and organized crime (utilizing a series of Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel articles on government lawyer legal fees.)


  1. Some South Florida law firms are heavily involved in local politics. They often hire former politicians or government officials who are lawyers and contribute frequently to election campaigns. Here's an in-depth look at one firm that fits that profile. Becker & Poliakoff, based in Hollywood, represents eight local government agencies in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

  2. Established in 1972 as condominium law specialists. Practice broadened to include governmental, corporate, construction, real estate and gaming. Based in Hollywood 70 attorneys on staff, the firm has expanded throughout Florida and into China, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Also lobbies for the city of Hollywood. Created a political action committee in the 1980s to raise money for candidates and issues.

  3. Alan Becker, former Florida state representative from 1972 to 1978. Fought for the rights of condominium owners, mobile-home owners and apartment tenants.

  4. Gary Poliakoff, a University of Miami law school pal of Becker's. President of the firm and an adjunct professor of condominium law at Nova Southeastern Law School.

  5. Bernie Friedman, lawyer and lobbyist. In the mid-1970s, was national president of the College Young Democrats of America. Student speaker at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. Served as chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Larry Smith from 1982 to 1986. Got a job through state Sen. Ken Jenne, D-Fort Lauderdale, as a campaign consultant, working on a half-dozen 1986 legislative races. Sometimes called Hollywood's sixth commissioner because of his influence at city hall.

  6. Larry Smith - Former five-term from Hollywood was sentenced to federal prison in 1993 after pleading guilty to income tax evasion and misusing $10,000 in campaign funds, part of which was used to settle a Bahamian gambling debt. The Florida Supreme Court suspended his license until 1998. Before his conviction, he had a governmental consulting business in the law offices of Becker & Poliakoff. Smith, who now works as a lobbyist, rents space from the firm and collaborates with its members on work for private clients. In the public sector, his clients have included the cities of Hallandale, Hollywood and Pembroke Pines as well as the North Broward Hospital District. He has lobbied before the Broward County Commission and the school board.

  7. Simon Ferro - Former Florida Democratic Party chairman, worked out of the firm's Miami office for five years until 1994.

  8. Alan Koslow - Former Hollywood city attorney who resigned under fire in 1993. After negotiating a settlement with a female city employee with whom he was secretly having a relationship, he lied about it to the Broward State Attorney's Office. He was suspended from practicing law for 45 days. Soon after leaving his city job, he joined Becker & Poliakoff, where he was recently promoted to partner. Specializes in gambling issues and real estate development. Clients include Gus Boulis, founder of Miami Subs and hotel developer on Hollywood's oceanfront.

  9. Karen Roselli - Former assistant city attorney in Coral Springs, who was fired in 1993 for insubordination. She said she lost her job because she tried to expose corruption in the former city attorney's office. She sued and the city settled the case for $55,000. Now works as an associate at Becker & Poliakoff's West Palm Beach office.

  10. The firm's contracts have generated $2.13 million in the last three years. They include:

    1. * $1.6 million from the Broward School Board to handle construction disputes, litigation and revisions of the school construction program. Includes fees paid to expert witnesses, such as engineers, according to Becker.

    2. * $450,395 from Palm Beach County for land-use litigation work.

  11. The firm, its PAC and its attorneys have contributed to candidates and causes over the years. Among last year's contributions:

    1. * $5,000 to a PAC that is trying to pass a multi-million dollar bond issue for school construction.

    2. * $1,948 to Hollywood city commissioners Eleanor Sobel and Richard Blattner.

    3. * $1,500 to a slate of four Tamarac city commission candidates backed by County Commissioner Norman Abramowitz, to whom the firm gave $500 in his 1996 election bid.

  12. The firm and its attorneys also gave thousands of dollars in contributions to school board members and county commissioners in their most recent elections.

    That includes:

    1. * $2,500 to Broward school board member Bob Parks.

    2. * $6,527 to four other Broward school board members, including a $100- to $500-a-person fundraiser for Don Samuels in the firm's building atrium.

    3. * $2,000 to Scott Cowan, the Broward county commissioner, a strong supporter of business and real estate development.

    4. * $1,950 to Broward County Commissioner Suzanne Gunzberger, whose district includes Hollywood and who has close ties to the firm's Bernie Friedman.

    5. * $2,450 to other Broward County Commission candidates.

    6. * $2,000 to Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty.

    7. * $2,000 to Palm Beach County Commissioner Carol Roberts.

    8. * $4,000 to five other Palm Beach County commissioners.

  13. Partner Becker said his firm takes pride in contributing to political campaigns.

  14. "It's our duty to do so," he said. "If lawyers don't care about the quality of people who make laws and enforce them, then who's supposed to?"

  15. Becker said the firm and its PAC contribute about $50,000 a year to candidates at the local, county and state level. He sees it as a small price to pay to create valuable ties to government. "There's no question that relationships are an inherent part of the political-contribution system. We occasionally benefit from those relationships," Becker said. "But they're not relationships of quid pro quo. They're relationships of access and connections."

Sun-Sentinel Copyright (c) 1998, Sun-Sentinel Company and South Florida Interactive, Inc.
This Web page is one in a SERIES OF WEB PAGES examining the modus operandi of the Florida Bar.