In 1974, Nixon announced that he was not a crook. Steve Miller’s “Joker,” and Barbara Streisand’s “The Way We Were,” topped the Billboard Charts, a gallon of gasoline averaged about $0.66 and Russell J. Ferraro, Jr started his legal career serving the Treasure Coast as an Assistant Public Defender with the 19th Judicial Circuit!
Back then, Russell Ferraro and a handful of attorneys traveled the entire circuit to represent indigent clients on everything from traffic infractions and bar fights to murders. Since then, the the practice of law on the Treasure Coast has come a long way…
Take a stroll down memory lane with Russell as he opines on how the practice has changed in the interview below.
Question: What are 3 things that have changed the practice of law on the Treasure Coast since you started out in 1974?
Russell: 1. Technology! When I started practicing law there were no computers, no internet or spell check. We didn’t even have fax machines! We delivered correspondence to the Court and opposing counsel by U.S. Mail or messenger. If UPS or Fedex were around, they were not used in business around here until much later.
Back then, all of our legal research was done in a law library. With books. We not only had to find relevant cases to argue our points, but we had to go to the “Red Book,” to “Shepardize” our results to make sure that there were no new cases or statutes that overturned the ones we wanted to rely on. Today, with online legal research tools, books are nearly obsolete, and the time spent working on an individual case or issue has decreased dramatically. Email is now required for filings with the Courts, and it has become the favored method of communication as well for many of the younger lawyers. In 1974, cell phones were not around either. The addition of all of these tools has allowed attorneys to work on more cases and ultimately help more people with their problems while spending less time in the office.
2. The Treasure Coast has grown! When I first started practicing law, we had an area code of 305. We later switched to 407, then 561 and now 772. As Port St. Lucie continues to grow, I would not be surprised if we end up changing again. In the dead of summer, 1974, a dog could lay down in the middle of East Ocean Blvd in front of the courthouse all afternoon and the chances of a car honking or forcing it to move were pretty slim. The county’s only circuit judge would take an entire month off putting all cases on hold, whether folks were incarcerated or not. Now, with new bridges in every direction have come more and more people. While Stuart still enjoys the label of a small town, it’s really not so small any more.
3. Women! In 1974 there were very few women practicing law. There were only a few at Stetson College of Law when I graduated and fewer practicing on the Treasure Coast. Now, the practice of law is dominated by women who comprise over 50% of the legal industry. The “good ole boy” system that existed on the Treasure Coast has changed dramatically, maybe in part because of the increase in women practicing, and also because of the volume of newcomers who have settled and begun practicing here over the last 40 years.
Question: What were some of your favorite places to eat lunch back when you started practicing law?
Russell: There is no place I miss more than the Crystal Diner across the street from the Courthouse in St. Lucie County. All of the judges, police officers, and attorneys would gather there every day before court. Not only was it a great place to grab a cup of coffee, but a ton of cases were resolved there.
All of Stuart ate at Lord Chumley’s for lunch. Back then, a 2 martini lunch was not frowned upon, and the Chumley Burger still might be the best that Stuart has ever produced!
In Okeechobee, Barlow’s had excellent catfish and was a local favorite of Judge Trowbridge. But the best kept secret in Okeechobee, believe it or not, was the breakfast at the Okeechobee County Jail! As a Public Defender, I could meet with clients and enjoy some of the county’s finest cuisine without a wait.
Question: What has been your favorite part about practicing law on the Treasure Coast?
Russell: Probably the fact that even as Martin County and the Treasure Coast have grown, for the most part, all of the lawyers know each other and are on a first name basis. I worked with many of today’s judges when they were State Attorneys and Public Defenders starting out, and many of the successful lawyers and politicians that are working in this area got their start in my law firm. Now, I work frequently with the children of lawyers I started out with, and I am proud that all of my sons have taken up this profession.
Question: Do you have a favorite type of case?
Russell: No, I don’t really have a favorite type of case. They are all unique. I can say that first degree murder cases are the most challenging. But my focus for the last 30 years has been more on divorce and family law matters. Family law has become much more complex over the years. When I started out, the wife would get the home, the children and alimony. Thus husband would get the business and most everything else. There was no equitable distribution. And adultery mattered if you were seeking alimony. Now, there is a push toward equal parenting, less or no alimony, and an equal split of marital assets. It is a sign of the times, and how far we have come as a society. Now, my focus is on high net worth divorce, generally where the parties need to value a business or businesses and assets with tax issues or consequences.
Question: What’s your craziest story?
Russell: Unfortunately, the craziest stories really can’t be told, but one thing that stands out is from my days as a PD. I had to go to Raiford Correctional Facility at my boss’s (the elected Public Defender) request to interview death row inmates; as the death penalty had been declared unconstitutional. I was put in a room with 5 murderers and no guards. All were fairly upset with my boss. In fact, one was a serial killer who’s wife married my boss after the conviction! The serial killer wanted me to inspect his cell as he was claiming it was cruel and unusual punishment.I then had to walk with the serial killer and an unarmed guard through two, three-tiered cell blocks with at least 500-1000 convicts gathering and hanging around as we passed. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, we got to the cell and he asked, “What do you think?” I said, “It’s a f***ing mess, clean it up,” and I turned and walked out without looking back.
Since 1974, Russell Ferraro has become the go-to divorce lawyer in Martin County. He has been board certified in marital and family law for 25 years – since the board certification has existed. He has been AV Rated by Martindale-Hubbell for 25 years and is listed again in the 2014 Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. He is rated superb by Avvo.com and listed in Superlawyers Magazine as the only Superlawyer in Stuart, Florida for Marital and Family law.
If you are in need of a dissolution of marriage involving complex financial issues or business valuations, do not hesitate to contact us today for a consultation.