2018 Top Legal Eagles

When the time comes to retain counsel, the choice between the right attorney and the wrong one can be life altering. The law is nuanced, complex and ever-changing, which is why it’s crucial to choose a specialist in the particular area being pursued. For more than a decade, Pulse has been featuring the region’s top attorneys as a reference for our readers to find the best legal guidance for when they need it most.

Professionals in the field were invited to nominate those whose expertise is so outstanding in 10 areas of practice, they could be considered the best. These attorneys strive for excellence in their endeavors, give back to their communities and remain active in the development of the law outside the courtroom by participating in, and in some cases leading, organizations that uphold the strictest ethics and legal principles.

The 10 Legal Eagles profiled on these pages are those who received the greatest number of votes from their peers. Their offices span Nassau and Suffolk counties, just as their areas of expertise cover the full spectrum of legal pursuits. Their resumes are rich in experience and they are all in good standing with their respective bar associations.

Business/Corporate
Robert C. Creighton
Farrell Fritz, P.C.

Robert C. Creighton

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It is well known that legal matters can easily—and often—take a contentious turn for the worse. It takes a skilled and seasoned attorney to guide cases with a steady hand to avoid the pitfalls of unnecessary legal pursuits. As a young lawyer, Robert Creighton received advice that would be the guiding principle for his 30-plus-year career: Never lose sight of the fact that clients engaged you to get transactions done. Though your clients’ and your adversaries’ interests are different, ultimately they are all working to achieve the same result.

Several years ago, Creighton was approached by a shareholder of a corporation involved in a dispute. The client was interested in litigating to resolve differences. Creighton instead advised his client to work through the issues causing friction among the shareholders and position the company for sale to a third party. The client ultimately followed this advice and concluded a successful sale of the business, benefitting all the shareholders.

Outside of the courtroom, the Georgetown and Boston University School of Law graduate brings his pragmatic approach to the good of the community. He currently serves as a member of the board of directors of many organizations including Family Service League, Long Island Housing Partnership and EPIC Long Island.

Criminal
Rick Collins
Collins, Gann, McCloskey & Barry, PLLC

Rick Collins

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The former prosecutor in the Office of the Nassau County District Attorney has been practicing criminal defense and regulatory law since 1990. Over the decades, Rick Collins has seen both sides of the legal system, giving him a unique purview of the justice system, one he shares with more than just his clients.

As co-chair of the New York State Bar Association Criminal Justice Section’s Sealing Committee, Collins helped change state law last year to offer criminal record sealing. The provision focuses on ex-offenders with low-level, non-violent convictions in the distant past. “Not everyone deserves a second chance,” Collins said, “but not everyone in the justice system is a bad person. The new law helps good people with very limited criminal records overcome the collateral consequences that block them from employment, housing and education.”

Collins lends his expertise in many other arenas as well. The current vice president of the Nassau County Bar Association has served as a faculty member in dozens of trial practice courses, is internationally recognized as a legal authority on performance-enhancing drugs and substances, and has testified in federal court as an expert witness as well as before the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Divorce
Anthony Yovino
Tabat, Cohen, Blum & Yovino, P.C.

Anthony Yovino

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There may be no more volatile stretch in life than during a divorce, when a family’s structure hangs in the balance. The highly emotional period becomes even more complex when children and finances are added into the mix. It takes an aggressive litigator and a skilled negotiator to assess the needs of each client’s case, handle every aspect of a matrimonial matter and guide a client through the process to achieve a satisfactory resolution for all.

For more than 30 years, Anthony Yovino has done just that. His practical approach to very complex financial issues has arrived at fair and just resolution for his clients. In addition, he has been the attorney of record on several cases that established legal precedent, including McGowan v. McGowan, which held that an advanced educational degree is marital property, a critical distinction in the equitable distribution state of New York. The legal precedent allowed any advanced earnings received from the degree to be subject to fair distribution between the couple.

Yovino makes it a priority to share his expertise in matrimonial and family law topics. He is a lecturer for the Nassau Academy of Law, a continuing legal education instructor at St. John’s University and a frequent guest on the radio program “Law You Should Know.”

Employment
Jeffrey Ettenger
Schwartz Ettenger, PLLC

Jeffrey Ettenger

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Spend five minutes with any business owner in New York and they will tell you how challenging it is to understand, let alone comply with, the complex federal, state and local labor laws. To properly protect themselves, every employer needs an experienced and pragmatic employment attorney who can help navigate the ever-changing legal landscape.

For 20 years, Jeffrey Ettenger has been helping employers understand these obligations and avoid legal liabilities so they can successfully run their businesses. As these companies grow, he assists them in all matters including complying with wage and hour laws, establishing appropriate policies and procedures, and drafting employee handbooks. His work also includes counseling clients on how to address concerns effectively to mitigate the risk of liability and providing legal training for human resource departments and managers.

When issues cannot be resolved, Ettenger has proven to be a successful litigator, defending federal and state law unpaid wage claims and employment discrimination cases. He is also a regular speaker and writer on employment law.

Estates & Trusts
Gregory Pond
Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman, LLP

Gregory Pond

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Formulating an estate plan is a complicated, multi-faceted process. Ensuring that personal healthcare is in order and divvying up assets, all while keeping estate and capital gains taxes in mind, is often a dizzying process. Added to the mix is the fact that the ramifications of today’s work will impact future generations. It takes a seasoned attorney like Gregory Pond to maneuver around the obstacles, whether emotional or financial.

In the last year Pond has been involved in numerous estate litigations, including a lost will case, probate challenges, contested accountings and valuation disputes. He is also an experienced litigator, having done so on behalf of clients in the areas of contested wills, accountings and guardianship matters.

Outside of the courtroom, Pond is an adjunct professor at his alma mater, St. John’s University, where he has been teaching a course in business law for the last seven years. He is also a member and past-chairman of the Father Dorr Golf committee to raise scholarship funds for St. John’s students and sits on the board of directors of Port Youth Activities.

Insurance
Juan Luis Garcia
Nixon Peabody, LLP

Juan Luis Garcia

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Insurance law is often arcane and requires exacting precision and attention to every detail of the language in the policy. This commonly results in businesses not obtaining or negotiating the most appropriate form of insurance coverage. On the other side of the table, insurers find themselves struggling to enforce a policy in the manner they intended. A misstep in securing the correct liability coverage can mean the difference between bankruptcy and moving past an event to focus on the business at hand. Successfully navigating this area of practice requires the type of creativity, legal acumen and pragmatism that Juan Luis Garcia has repeatedly demonstrated for his clients.

In a case that made its way to New York’s highest court, Garcia and a collaborative Nixon Peabody team assisted an insurer that faced exposure to more than $10 million in potential claims related to fraudulent medical billing. The policyholder had inadvertently paid the fraudulent medical bills and was not able to recover the losses. It sought payment under a policy that covered losses due to computer crimes. The case raised novel questions of interpretation under New York law that Garcia and the Nixon Peabody team persuaded the court to decide entirely in the client’s favor.

Medical Malpractice
Thomas G. Leverage
Furey, Furey, Leverage, Manzione, Williams & Darlington, P.C

Thomas G. Leverage

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Success is not a straight line and the winding road often allows us to master skills we otherwise wouldn’t have. At the University of Wisconsin, Thomas Leverage spent three years studying nuclear engineering before switching his major to communication arts. The engineering education instilled an intellectual discipline, while the liberal arts studies helped him develop public speaking skills and the art of persuasion. Leverage then spent nine years as a line officer in the United States Navy where he worked with people from every walk of life, travelled around the world and was able to observe many different leadership and management styles.

These attributes and experiences are all on display when Leverage enters the courtroom. Several years ago, he defended a young doctor who was being sued for allegedly giving a patient a contraindicated medication resulting in very serious injuries. The plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury for $8 million. One slight misstep and the case would have been lost, but Leverage won. In speaking to the jurors afterward, one of the things they said was that they appreciated how considerate Leverage was of his adversary. Life skills at work indeed.

Personal Injury
Daniel P. Miklos
Silberstein, Awad & Miklos, P.C.

Daniel P. Miklos

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A personal injury attorney’s clients come to them in despair, often after a life-altering event. Their only respite from this newfound turmoil is a just resolution to a suit. Daniel Miklos compassionately advocates for his clients during all phases of litigation, where his professional and devoted efforts have consistently procured multi-million dollar settlements.

A seasoned and hardworking electrician suffered devastating injuries after being struck by an HVAC unit that fell from the ceiling because it had not been safely secured during construction. As his family’s sole provider, he turned to Miklos to secure his future. When the owner and general contractor refused to accept responsibility, Miklos took the case to trial. During the proceedings, the SUNY Albany and Hofstra Law School graduate presented the best safety and medical experts, who in turn explained to the jury the fault of the defendants and the impact of the life-long damages. The multi-million-dollar recovery achieved for the permanently disabled electrician and his family provided the economic security of a home, medical treatment and lost wages for years to come.

Real Estate
Leslie Feifer
Jaspan Schlesinger, LLP

Leslie Feifer

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What do you do when your legal opponent has no interest in the law? You get creative. On several occasions, Feifer has had attorneys show up at closings who do not specialize in real estate. In one particularly contentious matter a litigator arrived with a power of attorney to execute closing documents on behalf of an executor. In New York a fiduciary responsibility cannot be delegated by power of attorney, a fact her adversary was willing to ignore. Nonetheless, Feifer was able to have documents escrowed pending final signatures so closing could occur the next business day thereby closing the deal with legal propriety.

This is just one example of Feifer’s ability to handle all phases of commercial and residential real estate with aplomb, which she has done throughout her career. The Hofstra Law grad has also taught as a special professor of law at her alma mater and acted as a mentor to law students. She is also active in numerous professional, business and charitable organizations, including the Long Island Alumni Chapter of Tri-Delta.

Most Unbeatable
Joseph Asselta
Forchelli, Deegan, Terrana, LLP

Joseph Asselta

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A construction project typically involves a multitude of contracts between numerous  parties. It therefore takes a skilled attorney both to draft and to negotiate those contracts, as well as navigate the terms of the agreements and resolve the issues that may arise. For more than 25 years Joseph Asselta has successfully represented clients in all segments of the construction industry, and the numbers add up, highlighted by two multi-million cases he handled last year.

Asselta helped obtain a seven-figure arbitration award in favor of a contractor in connection with a wrongful termination of a New York City power plant contract by the project owner. The reasons given to justify termination were rejected by the arbitrator, who ended up awarding the contractor $1.3 million—the amounts owed for base contract and change order work performed, plus the contractor’s lost profits on the work it was prevented from performing.

Along with his team, Asselta, a graduate of Georgetown and St. John’s School of Law, represented a client in its approximately $20 million acquisition of an 18-acre asphalt plant. The transaction included more than six selling entities, three lenders, 10 different parcels and various equipment. The firm also handled the formation of various corporate entities and the leasing of the premises.