Pit bull lawyer, ballroom dancer, romantic: Arnie? Is that you?

It is difficult to picture one of the most feared divorce lawyers in town — elegant, well-spoken and a street fighter in court — as an unabashed romantic. A sweetheart, even.

"Sweet" is not a word generally associated with Arnie Levine, the Tampa attorney both sides scramble to call when big-money divorce looms, if only to avoid facing him across the table.

Years ago, when he represented the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a civil dispute, he accused opposing counsel of throwing coffee on him during a settlement meeting. (So much for settling.) Levine pleasantly allowed that probably a lot of lawyers wanted to do this over the years. And I have it on good authority that in fact, many called to offer the accused coffee-tosser sincerest congratulations.

So in the spirit of today, Valentine's Day, here is something interesting to know about Arnie Levine, divorce court terror in a tasteful charcoal suit. He has himself been married for 55 years. Well, yes, to the same woman, Gail Levine. And apparently, marital success has something to do with ballroom dancing on Wednesday nights.

"You have an opportunity to hold your wife in your hands, talk sweet nothings, and go out to dinner," he says.

She agreed to go on a date with him all those years ago when they met at the University of Miami because she thought he had beautiful fingers and a wonderful nose. Also, he was a character. (His version: "She heard of my charm and beauty and she searched me out.")

After their first date, dancing at a nightclub, she told her mother she would never go out with him again because of some obnoxious thing he'd done. Two months later, they married. And this touch of kismet: She didn't even have to change her name, her maiden being Levine.

Both are children of divorce. They have four children and nine grandchildren.

He is well-known in these parts, his practice including "multi-million dollar marital dissolutions and complex civil litigation," as his website says. When prodded, he allows what he finds most distasteful in this work: the undermining of an ex's relationship with the children. And, husbands who "cut off the spigot of support," particularly with children in the mix.

"You're fighting about things that should not be on the table," he says.

When I push for expertise on long, strong marriages (thankfully not paying his hourly rate, which surely would require a second mortgage on my home) he says this:

When your day is hell, do not take it home and lay it all on the other person. Make sure to have fun together. Extend yourself.

"Think about how you want to be treated and treat the other person that way," says, yes, Arnie Levine. "It works. When you're into yourself, that's when you get into trouble."

How does a marriage last more than half a century?

"It's only because of the fact that my wife is able to put up with me," he says.

At that she laughs. Says she could not be luckier. "He is a pussycat, really," she says. She has seen him cry at romantic movies. He brings her a cup of coffee — a foaming cappuccino, even —to her bedside in the morning. He calls on the way home to see if she needs anything. He is a man who comes bearing flowers.

And, apparently, they dance.

Pit bull lawyer, ballroom dancer, romantic: Arnie? Is that you? 02/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 13, 2014 6:56pm]

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