Don't Hide the G-r-r-r | Tailpipe | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Don't Hide the G-r-r-r

You have to love a law firm that uses a glowering watchdog with a spike collar for its logo and invites new clients to call them at 800-PIT-BULL. There's none of that mincing pinstripe delicacy to the Fort Lauderdale personal injury firm of Pape & Chandler. This is bare-knuckles legal representation. The firm, which specializes in injuries to motorcycle riders, claims to protect its clients' interests with "tenacity, determination, and aggressiveness." Like a pit bull guarding its owner. That's a good thing, right?

But lawyers can be a persnickety group, obsessed with their own scorned image. The notion of lawyers acting like contending dogs may be close to the truth when they go after each other in court. But to advertise it? That offended Marie Sperando, a partner in the Stuart firm of Willie Gary. She filed a complaint with the Florida Bar Association saying that Pape & Chandler's marketing tactic reinforced the public's negative stereotype of lawyers as "voracious, unethical, and greedy."

The bar association decided to prosecute the case -- and lost. Two months ago, Broward County Judge William Herring ruled that the firm can continue to use its pit bull logo and number, opining that the Florida bar's suit was an unconstitutional attack on the right to free speech. (The bar is appealing the verdict.)

Not only has the bar association's suit been knocked down but business is booming at Pape & Chandler. The firm's senior partners, J.P. Pape and Marc Chandler, University of Miami School of Law graduates, are a pair of Harley-riding free spirits with, as Chandler puts it, an up-close understanding of "the dynamics of a motorcycle accident." They've been deluged with calls from all over the country seeking their services, all courtesy of the publicity generated by Sperando's complaint. "We even had a call from a law student in Montana who said she had written a paper about us," Chandler says. "She said we were her heroes."

Tailpipe took a look at Sperando's law firm's website to see how Gary and company, who style themselves "The Giant Killers," are upholding the integrity of the profession. There were pictures of Willie Gary's matching Bentleys, along with a loving description of the firm's new jet, complete with 18-karat gold sink. Nothing unethical there, the 'Pipe concedes, but it veers awfully close to "voracious" and "greedy."

Bring Us Together, Wahid

For two years, the Palm Beach County Democrats have been a disorganized mess under Carol Ann Loehndorf. Though Democrats carried the county for John Kerry, they turned out in less-than-expected numbers. So it's easy to imagine why the party's new leader, Wahid Mahmood, got so much support in his bid to unseat Loehndorf, even though few know much about him.

In fact, 42-year-old Mahmood has some drama in his past. In April 1999, his wife, Patricia, filed criminal charges against her husband after he allegedly assaulted her in the family's Boca Raton home. According to a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office report, Mahmood manhandled his wife, pulling her arms behind her back and ripping a comb out of her hair during an argument. Then, according to the report, Mahmood turned to one of the couple's two school-aged sons and told him he would see his mother "at her funeral." Mahmood was charged with domestic battery, but prosecutors dropped the case when Patricia Mahmood declined to pursue it.

In his defense, Mahmood says the altercation was nothing more than a spat that was trumped up by deputies. "That was all instigated by the police," he said recently. "Every marriage goes through a here or there. We have two beautiful boys, we will be married for 19 years in January, and life is great now."

Mahmood, an investor in commercial properties, is a relative newcomer to politics -- in fact, he didn't register to vote until 2002, according to records.

He handles the embarrassing pieces of his past with grace. Like a veteran pol, he smoothly diverts the subject to bringing together the county's bitterly divided Dems. "I expect to rebuild this party and make us stronger and united."

Democracy in the Ditch

Representative democracy can be a real bitch -- contending with voters, attending to constituencies, considering the greater good. Messy stuff. A much easier means of governing is that chosen by the South Broward Drainage District (SBDD) board, the body charged with managing water flow in canals and ditches through parts of Hollywood, Davie, Pembroke Pines, Miramar, and Southwest Ranches.

Most people don't pay much attention to such boards. But a few years back, Ranches residents locked horns with the SBDD. John Eastman, a flight instructor, was irked by the district's practice of demanding easements from property owners who apply for building permits.

With a group of supporters, Eastman persuaded local state legislators to introduce a bill that made the board more accountable. The new law, which went into effect earlier this year, requires direct election of the board. It also requires board members, who get $450 to attend a single monthly public meeting, to reside in the district. That knocked two board members -- Howard Zimmerman and Ron Corbitt -- out of the running, and Eastman won one of those seats.

But it's clear that the majority of the board is having trouble adjusting to the rigors of democracy. Immediately after the election, long-time board member Leonard Miller announced his retirement. During an unannounced meeting, the lame-duck board then appointed out-of-towner Zimmerman to Miller's seat.

Linda Burke, an aide to Mike Davis, the Republican legislator from Pembroke Pines who backed the reform bill, couldn't conceal her disgust. "Having the old board swap one of the old boys out of the nest and put a new one in there is probably not illegal but certainly not very publicly considerate," she said.

Eastman has asked the Florida attorney general for a ruling on the appointment.

The Hot Dog Gene

Now, some unabashedly good news. It begins back in October, when Bob Cupina, of West Melbourne, noticed in the Orlando Sentinel a story about a Hollywood giant named Joe LaRue, one of the world's top ten competitive eaters. Cupina recognized the name -- there were LaRues in his native Binghamton, NewYork -- and contacted the writer. She sent Cupina a New Times profile of LaRue ("Hot Dog, Ho!," August 12).

Soon after, LaRue called the 'Pipe: "Dude, he's my half-brother."

Turns out that Cupina was the maiden name of Bob and Joe's mother. In 1946, she bore Bob out of wedlock and put him in an orphanage, where he lived until it closed in 1960. When he was 15 years old, he learned that his mother's name was Irene. He called her and "sensed a real hesitancy" on her part. He let it go. The only other time he had contact with the LaRue clan was 1977, when Cupina, then Binghamton City Council president, picked up a teenager hitchhiking. It was Joe. "I introduced myself," Cupina says. "I got the reaction I expected: 'Oh, we must be cousins.' I left it at that. I never tried to bother them."

Bob Cupina moved to Florida six years later and lost track of the LaRues. Brain tumors took Irene just a couple of years after that. Cupina never knew her, never knew who his father was, never married, and, until a few weeks ago, never had a family.

"I'm happy to find out about my family, that I have one," Cupina says. "I'm just not sure where we go from here. This one here is kinda big for me."

Doesn't get much bigger than LaRue, who was a contender in this year's Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island on July 4. The six-foot-eight, 280-pound chef has, since August, won a regional baked-beans-eating contest, pulled sixth in a chicken wings contest, and finished ninth in an illustrious Krystal Burger event. Alas, Bob Cupina doesn't seem to have been blessed with the hot-dog-scarfing gene. His 250-pound heft, he says, comes more from lack of exercise.

-As told to Edmund Newton

From Santa's Blotter

What's hot this Christmas? Not that SquarePants idjit. Nor that flim-flam, flat-screen boob tube. It's little things. Or at least, that's what Plantation P.D. told this Yuletide-yammerin' 'Pipe when we inquired about the five-finger discounts at the Broward Mall during the start of the shopping season. Coming soon to a stocking near you, sans receipt:

Forty blue and pink T-shirts, worth $1,100, filched from the front display of New York & Co.

A $237 flip phone stolen from a Burdine's dressing room.

$2,254 worth of cosmetics from Dillard's, paid for with a credit card belonging to the unwitting Patricio Silva, of Quito, Ecuador.

A $10 pair of earrings from Burdine's.

A $30 pair of earrings that 18-year-old Taxin Jamie Jones tried to purloin from the same store... in his mouth.

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