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Tampa law firms nurture relationships with Germany

Some Tampa lawyers have long had an affinity for things German _ the Porsche automobile, the Leica camera, Beck's beer. Suddenly, the German associate and client is becoming just as popular.

Tampa lawyer Richard Salem is just back from a working trip to Berlin. His firm, Salem, Saxon & Nielsen, has been building contacts and learning cultural nuances of European deal making for several years, he said.

Next year, Salem expects to begin sending lawyers overseas for 10 days every six weeks. That's up from quarterly European trips in 1989.

And at Annis, Mitchell, Cockey, Edwards & Rohen, they're even adding the name of an affiliate Berlin law firm to the letterhead.

"We'll effectively have an office in Berlin," said Steve Mitchell. "It'll be kind of a transoceanic relationship. We'll swap lawyers more than half the year."

Mitchell's firm is already host for Torsten Bloch, who will be absorbing the American legal practice in Tampa through the end of the year.

In January, the 32-lawyer Annis, Mitchell firm will officially link up with Kargo, Vollhardt & Partner, an eight-lawyer firm in Berlin. Mitchell said most German lawyers, even in Berlin, practice alone or in small partnerships, and that an eight-lawyer firm is considered large there.

Mitchell said he first met Berlin lawyer Uva Kargo through a German consultant in New York about three years ago. Mitchell said he and Kargo got along well and have had the notion of affiliate firms for some time.

"I'm sure other Tampa firms will try this kind of thing if they get the opportunity," Mitchell said.

Salem said his firm is happier to stick with a less formal network of contacts among European bankers, accountants and lawyers. And he thinks Tampa lawyers who try to "jump the pond" too quickly will meet disappointment.

But he agrees that opportunity beckons in Germany. The newly merged German economy particularly needs help in the areas of product distribution, technical services, licensing and intellectual property, Salem said.

"It's easier to get in your car, drive to East Berlin to place a call elsewhere in Eastern Europe, than to try to make the call from an office in West Berlin," Salem said.

Should a lawyer be allowed to say he has officially complained about a judge? John Doe II thinks so.

"Doe" is a Sarasota lawyer who sued the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) in federal court in Tampa last week. Doe claims Florida's prohibition against revealing the fact that a complaint has been filed with the JQC amounts to a "gag" that violates free speech.

Doe complained to the JQC about a 12th Circuit judge in August. But by law, he's not allowed to tell anyone else.

"I feel secrecy has no place in the process" of reviewing judges' conduct, said Doe, who listed a phone number on his federal complaint.

A federal judge in Miami last month agreed with Doe's position in a similar challenge. But his ruling against the gag applies to that case only.

U.S. District Judge Stanley Marcus wrote that the JQC's interest in protecting the reputation of Florida judges falls far short of the compelling government interest needed to sustain the confidentiality rule. By forcing people with complaints about judges to keep mum about their actions, Florida is more likely to "engender resentment and suspicion than to promote confidence and integrity," in the JQC, Marcus wrote.

"John Doe II's" complaint has been assigned to U.S. Distict Judge Wm. Terrell Hodges.

- Bruce Vielmetti, a University of Michigan Law School graduate, covers federal courts in Tampa for the Times.