When I met George at a luncheon five and a half years ago, he was a supervising attorney for Legal Aid. I remember thinking he was handsome (and for those of you who know me, you know when I say that about a white boy, it’s a big compliment), but what I didn’t know was what a good human being and philanthropist he was. In my opinion, it is always nice when a good looking man is even more attractive on the inside. George has now been in private practice for five years. It was nice to have the time to sit down and chat one on one with George…
The Law Offices of George Castrataro Celebrates 5 years
by: Scott Holland
When I met George at a luncheon five and a half years ago, he was a supervising attorney for Legal Aid. I remember thinking he was handsome (and for those of you who know me, you know when I say that about a white boy, it’s a big compliment), but what I didn’t know was what a good human being and philanthropist he was. In my opinion, it is always nice when a good looking man is even more attractive on the inside. George has now been in private practice for five years. It was nice to have the time to sit down and chat one on one with George.
Tell us a little about your background?
I was born in New York, and moved to Florida in 1992 where I pursued my undergraduate degree at the University of South Florida (Tampa), subsequently receiving a Masters Degree in Public Health (Miami). Following graduate school I worked extensively in the public health field both as a manager with the Florida Department of Health and later at the National American Red Cross in Washington, DC. While at the Red Cross, I had the opportunity to help oversee operations for one of the largest national disease prevention programs in the country and worked for an amazing woman who helped encourage me to grow and ultimately go to law school. After law school I wanted to stay in public service and was thrilled to begin my legal career at Legal Aid as the Supervising Attorney for the Consumer Law, HIV Law, and Human Rights Sections.
Why did you leave Legal Aid?
My decision to depart came during the peak of the financial crisis in 2008. The volume of consumers facing foreclosure and/or bankruptcy was overwhelming and I felt compelled to act. Ultimately I believed I could make a bigger impact in the community if I opened a private practice. I was and remain deeply committed to the mission and goals of Legal Aid and continue to provide pro bono representation and Legal Aid through Broward Lawyer’s Care. Honestly I am most proud of my Legal Aid background and have built my firm from the experience that I got from working at Legal Aid.
Tell me about your practice.
The practice consists of three primary areas; the Litigation practice which deals with a variety of litigated issues in State and Federal Court which range from real estate litigation such as property disputes between same sex disputes and employment issues which often involve discrimination in the workplace. The Estate and Probate Section has grown tremendously with the addition of Arthur Smith, ESQ to the firm. Arthur has a remarkable and lengthy history serving our community as a lawyer and humanitarian. His expertise in Wills and Probate exceeds 40 years. Finally, our Bankruptcy Section is amongst the most active in our area. The firm has represented over 600 debtors in bankruptcy. At least for now all three are relatively equal in size and each area has a principal attorney.
My practice has evolved in an enormous way in the last few years. Legal issues are ever evolving and whether it is a financial crisis that provokes a need or new opportunities for marriage equality, we are committed to growing and meeting our client’s best interests. While our firm is diverse in both our staff and our clients, we remain heavily focused on the LGBT Community; in the past, the LGBT individuals were often forced into practices that lacked sensitivity to their unique and specific needs. Now after DOMA and Prop 8, it is incumbent on me to continue our efforts in this area.
One of the things that George is most proud of is that he gives back to the community pro bono and in actual cash. Together (they are about 50/50) they total over $300,000 in barely five years. He also continues to volunteer as an active board member for Care Resource and is an appointed member of the Broward County Housing Council.
How big is your office?
We have seven permanent full time people, three attorneys; myself, Arthur and Aaron. Jason Charles is our Bankruptcy paralegal, Sarah Vickery is our litigation paralegal, Bryan Cosgrove is our Estate and Probate Paralegal, and Edward Heller is the administrative coordinator. We also have four part time staff. My staff is my greatest asset and a constant source of pride. Their commitment to me, the firm and especially my clients is without comparison. Our office also features the most modern software platforms for all practice areas and retains access to the largest legal research and library system available.
What are your favorite cases?
There have been a few. One, I actively sought and obtained emergency injunctive relief for Occupy Fort Lauderdale, enabling protesters to stand vigil throughout the holiday season; two, I have filed and represented approximately 600 debtors in bankruptcy since our inception) discharging an estimated $35,000,000.00 in debt and still feel great joy each time a client gets discharged; three, when I successfully challenged the Wilton Manors City Ordinance seeking to limit access to pharmaceuticals (pharmacies and small businesses); and four, our employment and discrimination cases like Mikey Verdugo and many others that help keep people employed, change bad policies or compensate people for injuries.
How do you get along with other lawyers in town?
For the most part, we have several really amazing attorneys in town that serve our community very well. I am very lucky to work with Ken Keechl and Commissioner Dean Trantalis. Our practice areas are often very complementary and we can often co-counsel cases or refer clients depending on what their issues and needs are. On a personal level, they are two of my best friends. Then of course Tom Runyan of Runyan Law Firm which is located in the same office and he has been a dear friend since before I entered practice. Tom has been someone who has seen me through my earliest days and has always been a voice of encouragement.
What awards and recognition have you received?
I am very proud of all the awards I have received. The most recent are: the AV Rating-Preeminent 5:5 from Martindale-Hubbell;, Rising Stars of Florida 2013 from Thompson West, a Red Ribbon award from Broward House, Best Community Attorney from the Bestie’s and I very recently received SuperLawyers Rising Star of 2013 from Westlaw.
What is something you want to do in the legal field that you haven’t yet?
Probably to lobby for changes to key laws that impact my clients and also to litigate impact cases that can often affect large groups of people. I have done some lobbying in DC and Tallahassee. I now chair the state of Florida for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys which will afford me the chance to improve the bankruptcy landscape throughout our state.
What’s ahead for LGC?
Recently I was entered into the United States Federal Court, Middle District of Florida which allows us to expand our federal court presence in particular bankruptcies into Tampa, Orlando and all of Central Florida. We are actively pursuing a more permanent additional location in Miami to make us more convenient for our Miami clients and eventually expect a Tampa Bay presence as well.
I think we are going to continue to expand the scope of our practice area. We will further develop our core areas and expand our capability to respond to new and emerging legal issues arise. The LGBT demographic remains our principal focus but our practice is about 50/50.
I would also like to continue to help my LGBT community through lobbying for favorable legislation and litigating cases that would impact marriage equality, employment, and any other areas where my community faces discrimination.