After the pirates held him at gunpoint and after a shipwreck, Ross Hartog went back to the desert to study law.
It was there in Arizona, oddly enough, that his parents had learned to sail. But there had been no inkling then or at sea that Hartog would wind up as a name partner practicing bankruptcy law at a respected South Florida firm. Or even, for that matter, in the law.
But those seafaring adventures in his early years left an indelible mark.
“It shaped me and made me willing to take risks and do things that sound good and make sense in my life,” he said. “Any opportunities I get I jump at. And I credit my parents and my experiences for that.”
His family lived near the ocean in Long Beach, California, when he was born and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, when Hartog was a toddler. They bought a small boat and took up sailing on a lake outside the city.
The bug bit.
They moved back to California when Hartog was 9 and became true sailors, he said, living aboard a 44-foot sloop and taking two- and three-week sailing trips in the Pacific waters to build their maritime skills.
A year later, the family decided on a grand adventure. They would sail away, make their home on the sea and travel wherever the wind and the water would take them for as long as they wished.
“I thought it was great. I was excited. I thought it was really neat. I didn’t have to go to school, which was good,” Hartog said. “I spent fifth and sixth grades living on board.”
Hartog and his parents sailed south from California along the coast of Mexico, then east through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean.
That’s where they met the pirates.
“This Zodiac came at us pretty quickly, pulled alongside,” he said. There were three men in it. “They had spear guns and fishing poles, but they also had machine guns with them. … They started yelling at us in Spanish and jumped aboard. And they took control.”
One stayed aboard the sailboat with Hartog and his mother as the others took his father ashore.
Time passed. Finally, the pirates returned with Hartog’s father. They wanted food and gas. The family handed over canned goods and boxes until the pirates’ boat could hold no more. The men told the family to wait as they ferried the foodstuffs ashore; they’d be back for more.
Hartog’s father had other plans. The family made a run for it.
“Which is kind of funny because a sailboat goes, what, 8 miles an hour?” Hartog said. “We weren’t really going to speed out of there.”
They watched as the heavily loaded boat sputtered toward the beach. As the men unloaded, the family pulled up anchor and started their getaway.
A few moments later, the pirates realized what was happening.
“As soon as they did, they turned the Zodiac back around, pushed it back out into the surf, and then couldn’t get the engine started,” Hartog recalled. “We kept seeing them pulling on the outboard, trying to get it started.”
It never did.
The family sailed on through the Caribbean and then north, skirting the East Coast, until they reached the coast of Maine. Caught in a thick fog, the boat slammed into rocks and stuck fast.
The waves and the rocks did the rest, pounding the boat beyond repair. The family swam to a small island, and the Coast Guard brought them ashore. Their sailing adventure was over.
A few months later, the family moved west again. Hartog went back to school and set his sights on college. Along the way, he developed an interest in the law.
“I didn’t have an idea necessarily of what kind of law I wanted to practice,” he said. “But I knew I wanted to be in the law in some fashion.”
After he got his law degree, he landed a job at a products liability firm representing tire companies.
Three years later, “a buddy of mine from law school wanted to start his own firm and I said, ‘What the heck?’ ” Hartog said. “He had just finished a bankruptcy clerkship, so we decided we’d be bankruptcy lawyers. I didn’t know anything about bankruptcy other than how to spell it.”
A year later, Hartog’s wife got a job offer in Miami. Hartog came with her, with no job of his own. He passed the Florida bar exam in 2000 and stuck with bankruptcy law.
He worked as an associate doing creditors’ rights cases at a firm for a couple of years, then joined Markowitz Davis Ringel & Trusty. By 2010, he became a shareholder, and his name replaced Miami-Dade County Judge Joe Davis’ in its title.
He focuses his practice on reorganizations and restructuring, insolvency and receiverships, and splits his time between bankruptcy and fiduciary work.
“I don’t even have a boat.”
Carlos Harrison is a freelance writer in Miami.
Born: 1970, Burbank, California
Education: University of Arizona, J.D., 1995, B.S., 1992
Experience: Shareholder, Markowitz Ringel Trusty & Hartog, 2002-present; Associate, Haley Sinagra & Perez, 2000-2002; Partner, Denker & Hartog, 1998-1999; Associate, Michael McAllister, 1995-1998