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Body found in water off Clearwater Beach identified as that of prominent lawyer

Holland & Knight partner Douglas Wright, 60, was pronounced dead at a local hospital Sunday night.
Douglas A. Wright, a prominent Tampa lawyer with Holland & Knight, was found dead Sunday. His body was recovered from the water in Clearwater Beach.
Douglas A. Wright, a prominent Tampa lawyer with Holland & Knight, was found dead Sunday. His body was recovered from the water in Clearwater Beach. [ Holland & Knight ]
Published May 10
Updated May 10

CLEARWATER BEACH — A man whose body was found floating off of Clearwater Beach has been identified as Douglas A. Wright, a partner at powerhouse Tampa law firm Holland & Knight.

The firm confirmed Monday that the body found Sunday was that of Wright, 60, the firm’s operations and finance partner. The medical examiner’s office has not determined a cause of death, but a statement from the firm said he died of a suspected heart attack while swimming.

Police said that a Clearwater Fire and Rescue crew was called to retrieve a body at about 6 p.m. Sunday at the 1000 block of Eldorado Avenue, near a waterfront home listed in county records as Wright’s. Clearwater police spokesperson Rob Shaw said police don’t believe the death was suspicious. The body had no injuries, Shaw said, and there also appeared to be no boat or other vessel nearby. It is unknown how long he was in the water.

Wright spent his entire career at Holland & Knight, a firm based in Tampa with 1,400 employees in more than two dozen offices on three continents.

“Mr. Wright’s financial acumen, management skills, and tireless dedication to the firm were critically important to Holland & Knight’s success over the past two decades,” managing partner Steven Sonberg said in a statement. “Even more important, he was widely admired for his kindness and generosity. He had an engaging personality, an extraordinary intellect, and a big heart. He was a much loved friend, partner, and mentor to many throughout the firm and the Tampa Bay community.”

A Lakeland native, Wright was a walk-on nose guard at the University of Florida, where an old media guide called him “one of the strongest players on (the) Gator team,” capable of bench-pressing 500 pounds. Upon graduating from the university’s Levin College of Law, Wright joined Holland & Knight in Bradenton, then quickly moved to Tampa.

Wright’s football background served him well. In addition to his work in estate and tax planning, he negotiated contracts for several National Football League and Major League Baseball players, according to an archived Holland & Knight biography. But his specialty was corporate law, from mergers and acquisitions to partnerships.

“The firm swallowed up a big part of his life, because he loved the firm,” said Angela Ruth, who worked with Wright for 16 years as executive director of the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation. “He was extremely generous with his time, with his resources. He just had a very, very big heart.”

Holland & Knight partner Mike Chapman said Wright was a good motivator who preferred to stay out of the spotlight.

“He was a very caring person, but he wasn’t somebody who wanted to be recognized. He was a behind-the-scenes guy,” Chapman said.

In the early 2000s, Wright faced several harassment claims from a group of young lawyers at the firm. Four of the employees who came forward were women. Their complaints echoed portions of the modern Me Too movement: mentions of their sex lives, unwanted comments on their outfits, pressure to touch his arms or legs. One employee leveling the accusations described him as “very powerful and untouchable.”

At the time, Wright acknowledged the accusations, but he denied or said he didn’t recall some of the specific details and said he was joking or teasing with many of his comments.

But a review of the incidents conducted by the firm and an outside law firm found the complaints “generally credible” and Wright’s actions a violation of the law firm’s sexual harassment policy. Following the review, in 2005, he was reprimanded internally, the Tampa Bay Times reported at the time.

But six months later, Wright was promoted to chief operating partner, the third-highest position at one of the largest and most powerful law firms in the country. He recused himself from the promotion after reports of the outside review were leaked to the news media.

Ruth said that after the investigation, Wright threw himself back into the practice.

“I know that it impacted him,” she said. “I believe that he just said, ‘I’m going to move forward. I’m going to do a lot of good, and I’m going to move forward.’ And that’s what he did.”

In later years, as Holland & Knight’s operations and finance partner, Wright ended up overseeing the firm’s human resources department, as well as operations such as its accounting, marketing, legal and information technology.

Wright served on the Council of Advisors for the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida, and he was a former board member of United Cerebral Palsy of Tampa Bay, the Salvation Army, Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay and the Spring of Tampa Bay.

Wright had three children and one grandchild, which Sonberg’s statement called “a tremendous source of pride.” Ruth said he “reveled in his kids’ success,” and Chapman said he was always showing off family photos.

“He had a lot of pride in his kids,” he said. “There was always a big smile on his face when he talked about his kids.”

Times staff writer Jack Evans contributed to this story.