Breaking NewsLaw.com and associated brands will be offline for scheduled maintenance Friday Feb. 26 9 PM US EST to Saturday Feb. 27 6 AM EST. We apologize for the inconvenience.

 
X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Arthur Rice walked into U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Paul Hyman’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla., courtroom last month to represent SunCruz Casinos in the fierce legal battle over the future of a company struggling in the wake of the gangland-style murder of its founder, Gus Boulis. Hyman, spotting Rice’s familiar face, told the well-known, abrasive attorney that he liked his suit. “It’s the only one in my closet that doesn’t have blood stains on it,” Rice shot back. The Miami bankruptcy lawyer oozes sarcasm and possesses a razor-sharp wit. Even his courtroom foes admit to enjoying his performances. But they also know not to let this distract them, because Rice has an iron will to win. “When you go to court with Arthur, don’t expect a break,” says Miami bankruptcy attorney Scott Baena, a partner at Bilzin Sumberg Dunn Baena Price & Axelrod, who has known Rice for 27 years. “He’s got tremendous tenacity.” In the past eight years, Rice, 55, has built a reputation as a go-to guy for debtors and trustees in bankruptcy cases. But the founding partner of the six-lawyer Rice Robinson & Schiller also has done some creditor work. He went to the mat in the late ’90s for creditors who lost $130 million in a life insurance scheme. In 1998, he represented the clients of Harvey Abramson, a disbarred North Miami lawyer who was alleged to have misappropriated $1 million in insurance money he won for them in personal injury cases. Rice did it pro bono. He was angered by the conduct of Abramson, who is awaiting trial on grand theft and fraud charges. Last month, Rice pulled off a major coup in the SunCruz case — preserving the creditors’ investment while getting SunCruz’s principal owner, Adam Kidan, out of the picture with a $200,000 walk-away settlement and relieving him of further potentially massive liability. But Rice’s personal story is just as compelling as his lawyering. An Army helicopter pilot who lost a leg in Vietnam, Rice once pounded his prosthetic leg on a table, a la Nikita Kruschev, to make a point, says a former colleague. An indifferent student before being drafted, he says his war experiences transformed him into the driven person he is today. Twelve years ago he overcame a bout with debilitating alcoholism. He has also become active in helping other alcoholics. LEARNING THE HARD WAY Born in Middletown, Conn., Rice came from humble beginnings. His father, a nurseryman, took a night watchman job to fund his son’s college education. Rice entered Norwalk Community Technical College and studied chemical engineering, switching schools after less than a year to study English. But, he admits, his grades weren’t good enough to keep him out of the draft. “They had a normal progression rule and I was not progressing normally,” he says with a chuckle. While flying a mission in the Mekong delta in 1969, Lt. Rice was hit by enemy fire three times. His right leg had to be amputated just below the knee. After the war, Rice returned to college on the G.I. Bill — with “considerably more focus and discipline,” he says. After graduation from Quinnipiac College in Connecticut, he decided to go to law school. He picked the University of Miami after seeing all the students catching rays around the school swimming pool. But once he started, Rice attacked law school like he does everything else, says Samuel I. Burstyn, a solo criminal defense and civil litigator in Miami who was Rice’s law school classmate and roommate. This was the unpromising start of the two men’s friendship. “He pulled me aside after a class and chastised me for asking too many questions during a research and writing lecture,” Burstyn recalls. “He said, ‘Listen, pal, I am paying my own tuition, this hour cost me $48, and you cost me 80 percent of it.’ “ Friends and colleagues describe Rice as having two speeds — full and sleeping. “Arthur works hard and plays hard,” says Alan Kluger, a partner at Kluger Peretz Kaplan & Berlin in Miami, who worked with Rice during Rice’s brief stint at Fieldstone Oliver Kluger Sumberg & Mondre. Until recently, Rice owned a 35-foot Sonic 850-horsepower racing boat. Baena remembers when Rice took him for a cruise once — whipping through a no-wake zone at 80 mph. “You would sit there plastered against the seat, your eyelids closed and your mouth flapping,” says Baena. He says Rice enjoyed vexing residents of tony waterfront homes in Indian Creek. He buzzed them, spewing saltwater on their expensively manicured lawns. “It’s amazing you can have so much fun with a guy on a Saturday afternoon who doesn’t drink beer,” Baena says. SPECIALIZES IN TOUGH CASES Rice began his legal career in 1976 as a litigator. It wasn’t until 1993 that he began to focus primarily on bankruptcy law. While his firm does some creditors work, he mostly represents debtors and trustees. He started his own practice in 1984 with Ray Reiser. Nine years later, Rice struck out on his own. Then, in 1996, Kenneth Robinson joined Rice to form Rice & Robinson. Last month, Lisa Schiller, who joined Rice’s firm in 1993, was made a name partner. Rice takes on tough cases that, on the surface, don’t appear to have an easy solution, says Schiller. His list of clients includes NAL Financial Group, a Fort Lauderdale-based subprime lending firm that in 1998 Rice steered through reorganization in six months. “Arthur has often managed, probably because of his desire to have a successful reorganization as opposed to having a failed case under his belt, to find ways to come up with some plan so the debtor has some chance of reorganization,” says Schiller. “It’s probably because he doesn’t take no for an answer,” she says. And he doesn’t let his physical disability get in his way, says Jeff Cohen, a partner at Carlton Fields in Miami who worked with Rice in the mid-1970s on his first jury trial. The two were litigators at what was then Fromberg Fromberg & Roth. After a grueling day of trial in that case, Cohen recalls, Rice returned to the office and took off his prosthesis. “His leg was covered with blood because he had to stand all day long in the courtroom,” Cohen says. “But he wasn’t about to let anything like the fact that his leg was gone stop him.” SUNCRUZ COUP Rice showed that same grit in the recent SunCruz fight. The cruise-to-nowhere company faced suits and countersuits filed by Boulis’ successors and Adam Kidan, who with two partners had bought SunCruz from Boulis last September. The litigation sapped the company’s energy and resources. Had the suits been allowed to continue, the company would have never recovered, Rice says. The company’s creditors strongly objected to a settlement proposed by Rice, who with Schiller represents the corporation. In a deal reached with lawyers for the Boulis estate, Marty Steinberg and Stephen Stallings of Hunton & Williams, Kidan will receive $200,000 for his 35 percent interest in the company. The agreement also brought a halt to the legal battles and would give the Boulis estate a majority interest in SunCruz. Rice is scathing in his criticism of the creditors who opposed the deal, which he calls “a no-brainer.” Protracted court battles would have sunk the company, he says, leaving creditors with little or nothing. “They were either misinformed, uninformed, poorly advised or some combination of the three,” he says. Many of his colleagues say Rice’s direct, no-nonsense style is part of what makes him so effective. “If he thinks you are playing fast and loose with him, he will litigate you to the mat,” says Patricia Redmond, a bankruptcy lawyer and partner at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson. “If he understands you are being fair and forthright, you have someone you can talk to.” BAR FIGHT Rice caused a stir on the Florida Bar Board of Governors, on which he sits. Says Bar President Terry Russell: “He is direct, passionate, and believes what he says. When he stands up to speak, you hold your breath.” Rice, who was chairman of the Bar’s Member Benefits Committee, strongly supported the Bar’s endorsement of Seabury and Smith Insurance as an alternative malpractice carrier to the Bar-sponsored Florida Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co. His position wasn’t popular, but he didn’t care about the potential fallout. Jacksonville attorney Bruce Glassman, who chaired the committee at the time, says Rice’s attitude was, ” ‘I got a leg shot off in Vietnam. Do you think anyone can do anything worse than that?’ ” Glassman says he wishes more Bar governors were so gutsy. Some say, however, that Rice has mellowed in the last decade. “His ‘S’ list of people is getting shorter,” says Baena. Divorced, with one grown daughter, Rice acknowledges that he’s overcome personal demons. His battle with drinking reached its peak a dozen years ago. “I woke up one day and was just sick and tired of being sick and tired, and decided to seek help,” he says. “Had I not done that, I would probably be living under a bridge right now.” Rice says he owes a lot to “the grace of God.” In his typical brusque way, Rice helps others who struggle with alcoholism. “He grabs them by the scruff of the neck and shows them there is yet something good that can happen in their lives,” Baena says. Schiller testifies to Rice’s dual nature. When she first started working for Rice in 1993 just after passing the bar, he told her that if she worked hard, he would make her a partner after five years. True to his word, on the day of her fifth anniversary Schiller became a partner. “Because he has such an extreme personality, he can also do stuff to make you angry,” says Schiller. “But he can also do stuff that’s so incredible, you forget about the stuff he does to piss you off.”

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.