Tom Tew
Tom Tew (CANDACE WEST)

What does it say about a lawyer that his 23-year-old firm survived him by only two months?

While the death of Tew Cardenas involves more than the death of Thomas Tew, to Joseph DeMaria it says only good things. “What it says is that Tom was the swizzle stick of this firm. He put it together, and it lasted a long time,” said DeMaria, who worked with Tew at the litigation boutique for 21 years.

Tew, who died of cancer Jan. 27 at 73, was considered the go-to lawyer in South Florida for complicated receiverships, banking consolidations and securities shops that devolved into bankruptcies.

When Miami needed to defend against bond fraud allegations brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the politicians sought out Tew. When the outside directors of FPL Group were named in a $60 million derivative action, they went to Tew.

He was the bankruptcy trustee for ESM Government Securities after the biggest such collapse in the nation’s history when it happened in 1985.

“Tom was a great financial lawyer,” DeMaria said. “He had a great understanding of complex financial issues, banking, insurance, securities, and I think that was his key.”

And he could glibly explain those issues in layman’s terms. He made himself available to journalists, who kept him handy in their Rolodexes and later in their contacts.

No stranger to the halls of Tallahassee or Washington, Tew testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on insurer insolvencies. The Florida Legislature hired him to review the near-collapse of the SBA’s local government investment pool during the administration of Gov. Charlie Crist.

Client Tony Argiz, head of the accounting firm Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra in Miami, said Tew had “tremendous credibility with his peers” and judges.

“When Tom was involved in a case, it was a signal to the opposing side that there was going to be a strong fight against a claim,” Argiz said.

Tew Cardenas lawyers have gone to well-regarded firms including Akerman, Squire Sanders & Dempsey and Shutts & Bowen. That’s also a tribute to Tew, DeMaria said.

“Everybody has done very well coming out of this firm, every attorney, every paralegal, every secretary,” he said. “So I think Tom would be pretty proud of the fact that what he put together is going to continue in a bunch of other firms.”