Known to many as ‘Miami’s diplomat,’ Aaron Podhurst has been called upon by leaders at the highest of levels to help to bridge partisan barriers, diffuse tensions, and bring people together towards a common goal. He served as the unofficial mediator in the standoff over Elian Gonzalez’s custody in 1999 and is credited with negotiating the deal that brought Miami’s Museum Park from dream to reality.
SoundBytes caught up with Aaron to talk about his career, his contributions to Miami and of course the importance of his latest achievement: receipt of the American Jewish Committee’s Judge Learned Hand Award, which recognizes leaders in the legal profession for their excellence and contributions to the practice of law.
AP: At a time when diplomatic tensions reach an all-time peak and geopolitical turmoil dominates headlines, we are reminded of the importance of a strong legal framework and independent judiciary. The AJC’s mission is just that, to encourage equality and advocacy around the world. This is why the AJC is important to everyone, regardless of your connection with the practice of law.
SB: You were instrumental in making PAMM and Museum Park a reality. What does it mean for Miami?
AP: When I was a young lawyer I learned that getting involved in the community can be invigorating. I have been involved in bar associations, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, the University of Miami, the Community Partnership for the Homeless and more. I initially supported PAMM because there’s no money for teaching culture in the public schools and museums fill that void. This is where kids can learn about art in person, and we’re doing that at the new museum thanks to a public-private partnership. The Frost science museum will have a similar impact. That’s why we’ve worked so hard to bring these projects to life.
SB: How do you think Miami has changed over the past 20 years – for better or for worse?
AP: Twenty years ago no one could have imagined Miami would have grown to become a cultural Mecca, but it’s happening. We have welcomed Art Basel for more than 10 years, the Arsht Center is one of the country’s premiere performing arts centers, galleries and artist studios are popping up in neighborhoods that were off the map just a few years ago. And PAMM outperformed even the most optimistic of attendance estimates in its first year.
SB: What types of legal casework are you involved in right now?
AP: Podhurst Orseck is one of the most active aviation litigation firms in the world, and we’ve certainly seen an uptick in airline tragedies in recent years. Our work has included representing victims of nearly every major plane crash in the last 25 years, including 30 victims of the Malaysian Air MH370 flight that disappeared. Additionally, we are involved in the NFL’s concussion litigation and multi-district litigation surrounding the effects of faulty Chinese drywall. I’m also on the plaintiffs’ steering committee in the bank overdraft fee litigation, which has involved more than 30 of the largest banks in the U.S.
SB: Any words of wisdom you can pass on to our readers?
AP: The advice I have always given my kids: Life is a journey and you’ve got to enjoy the journey. The destination is death. So enjoy what you do, be happy with what you do. To be an American born in America, you’re so lucky to begin with. And I don’t mean to be arrogant, but we’re so lucky to be Americans. Everybody has a bad day. I always say to my kids, you could have been born in a place where you have no chance. We’re not starving. No one’s going to come arrest you for saying what you want to stay. We’re lucky.
American Jewish Committee – Judge Learned Hand Award
- Date: May 6, 2015
- Time: 6pm – 9pm
- Location: Jungle Island, Treetop Ballroom, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Miami, FL 33132
- URL: www.AJC.org/podhurst2015